Trolling the Harvard Law Review Competition

Journals are a funny thing. Students by and large hate editing them, and professors by and large hate handing over their careers to the whims of know-nothing students. We naturally have come to the conclusion that students should edit articles about which they are ignorant, and professors must spend endless waking hours wondering if they have pleased the 3Ls gods that hold the fate of academia in their hands. Of course, both sides perform monumental intellectual feats just for the chance to participate in this system.

The pinnacle of these intellectual feats is none other than our own Harvard Law Review writing competition. Every year, hundreds of 1Ls (and a few, desperate SJDs) line up in Hauser Hall after the worst academic year of their lives to go through one final ordeal of self-flagellation: a week-long battle with a 1500 page package covering the narrowest questions of law in the most voluminous manner possible. Last year I stood among my fellow classmates waiting my turn at this competition of a lifetime. Yet I stood among them as a charlatan and a fraud, for I intended to troll the Harvard Law Review competition.

First, some background on the law review competition itself. It consists of two sections: first, a sub-cite, where you mark up a paper sadistically implanted with intentional errors by the graders, where you earn a certain amount of points for each error caught, and second, a case comment, where you must write your own opinion, so that the graders can sadistically mark the errors that you have unintentionally placed there. The errors you have caught and the errors you have made are then measured against each other on the scales of Anubis to decide whether you are worthy to enter the blessed Gannett House.

I was determined to be the first person in the history of the Harvard Law Review competition to achieve a negative score. First, I attacked the subcite, adding all the more misspelling to an already tarnished document. “Canons” became “Cannons,” “treaties” “treatises,” and “peace” “piece.” Second, I made more substantive errors, swapping all instances of “substantive” and “procedural” (except, of course, when those terms actually were used on error). Next, I exasperated the logical errors of the piece by adding some errors of my own. I concluded with boxing in my edits (a requirement of the competition) using a convoluted system of lines whereby the grader would be forced to navigate a maze to find the correction that corresponded with the appropriate error.

My real tour de force, however, came during the case comment section. It started innocently enough—“The question of who has rights—and what rights they have—has become an important issue within the United States. The continuing use of ‘freezes’ by government prosecutors has sparked debate about the proper balance between the legitimate individual interest in safeguarding their rights and the legitimate government interest in obtaining a conviction”—before gradually descending into a series of what the prior subcite would call difficult substantive errors, i.e., repeated misconstruing of cases or sources and grossly conclusory claims. Certain gems include:

“Writing for the court, Justice Kagan wrote that ‘constitutional rights…don’t really matter.’ ”Also:  “In a vigorous dissent, Justice Roberts argued that the majority’s opinion had gone too far. He did not deny that ‘the Government may effectively remove a defendant’s primary weapon of defense—[his constitutional rights]’ but asserted that the accused should be able to choose one right to keep.” Finally: “It’s a common misconception that the constitution protects all of the rights enumerated in the amendments…it’s actually just a list from which you get to choose your favorite.”

I then moved on to this insightful analysis:

“Given the breadth of materials, I’m going to assume that it comes out as a wash. I am left, then, to my gut reaction to determine what is right. Since I ate a good breakfast today, my tendency is to be more lenient towards criminals—the Justice Roberts opinion. On the other hand, my cell phone was stolen earlier this month, and that makes me mad at criminals, which makes me tend to favor Justice Kagan’s approach. Overall, I think that whoever is reading this will probably be more liberally-inclined (In Kayley v. U.S., Roberts took an approach more favorable to criminal defendants) so I think adopting Justice Roberts’ approach will be better for my score. I therefore adopt Justice Roberts’ position.”

I concluded my remarks with a scoring key awarding points for each error my grader caught in the paper. Simple misspelling and punctuation errors were worth 1 troll point, whereas failure to follow law review competition guidelines were worth two troll points and extreme logical errors were worth three or four.

I happily bound the exact amount of copies prescribed by the law review competition at Staples and, using my newly purchased rubber bands, compiled them into one, beautiful packet almost as thick as the one I had been given, ready to lovingly read by my law review graders. At the end of my comment section I provided the following departing words:

“At the end of the day, there are many things that the law review competition is and is not. It is a great way for stressed out students to strut their stuff and show that they are the best writers and editors in town. For those that endure and succeed, I salute you! Yes, even you, my faithful, loving grader! By now you must have gone through 30 of these mind-numbing things.

“I hope this has provided a needed break.

“All the Best!

“The Harvard Law Review Troll”

Don’t take yourselves too seriously 1Ls. A copy of the case comment will be posted to the Record’s Website for everyone to see and enjoy. Hopefully, I’ll inspire at least one person to carry on the tradition.

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