Four credit points * Rich academic experience * Acquisition of analytical tools and critical thinking * These are just some of the benefits gained by law students who get involved in writing journals * In the first in a series of articles, we offer a glimpse behind the scenes at three leading student journals in the Faculty of Law *
The ability to read articles “properly” is an important skill required by students during the course of their studies. Many students never take time to consider the painstaking work involved in writing legal research and are unaware of the complex process of publication, which includes an entire editorial team in addition to the researcher. In return for four academic credit points, undergraduates can join the editorial board of one of the faculty’s journals, offering a unique academic experience. The journals receive articles intended for publication, and the members of the editorial board review the articles and decide whether they are worthy of publication. Once an article has been accepted, it must still undergo a protracted process of corrections, peer review and comments from external experts in the relevant field. The technical editing process includes the checking of footnotes. Although the editorial process differs from one journal to another, the general principles are very similar.
Are law students, some only in their second year of studies, really capable of criticizing articles by scholars who have been active in the field for years? Dr. Yael Ronen, the academic editor of the Israel Law Review, explains: “The students play a very important role in the editorial process. It isn’t just about experience. The students can act as ‘reasonable readers,’ and in this capacity their comments are very important. The expert readers can comment on fine nuances in the academic argument, but students bring a commonsense approach and can identify problems on a different level, precisely because they are less involved in the details.” Time is another important factor: “Naturally, the students gain experience in critical reading as they review a growing body of articles,” Yael notes. The acting editor of the journal Hukim (Journal on Legislation), Yael Efron, adds: “The students who join the editorial boards are usually extremely passionate about academic writing. They perform their work with great love. In many cases, I think that their motivation makes up for their academic immaturity.” Oren Ron, deputy editor of Hukim, offers a student’s perspective on this question: “I realized that the articles we get to read in our course studies are finished products. When you see articles sent in their initial form, it isn’t what we’re used to – they are much less polished and complete.” Oren describes the editorial process: “Articles included in academic syllabuses have already undergone editing and review,” he emphasizes. “When we read an article for class, we do not usually check the footnote references but accept them as the absolute truth. In our editorial work, on the other hand, we check up the references and go back to the sources. This reveals all kinds of ideas and issues that were not mentioned in the article and entire fields of content. This examination is reflected in critical comments that the author must address during the editorial process.”
What is the difference between the various journals? The following review highlights the unique character of three journals in which faculty students work as members of the editorial board.
Mishpatim (Hebrew University Law Review)
Editors: Yelena Chachko and Chanan Sidur
In a nutshell: Mishpatim is a general legal journal that accepts and judges articles across the entire range of legal and related issues – private and commercial law, public law, and critical and interdisciplinary legal analysis. The journal presents a diverse range of articles, including comments on legislation and case law and book reviews, as well as more “conventional” legal articles. The journal is supported by S. Horowitz and Co. and is published under the direction of the Harry and Michael Sacher Institute for Legislative Research and Comparative Law, and in cooperation with Nevo Publishers.
A potted history: Mishpatim was originally founded by Professor Aharon Barak on the basis of the format developed at leading American law schools such as Harvard and Yale. According to this model, the members of the editorial board and the editors themselves are students, rather than faculty members or experts. Since its foundation, Mishpatim has secured a reputation as the leading Israeli forum for legal publications in Hebrew. Alongside the journal Iyyunei Mishpat (Legal Reviews) of Tel Aviv University, Mishpatim has received a B grade from the Jerusalem Ranking of Academic Journals – the highest grade awarded to a Hebrew-language publication.
Students: “We are the oldest journal published by the Law Faculty, and indeed published anywhere in Israel in the field of law, with the exception of Hapraklit (The Attorney), which has a different format,” the editors note proudly. “This is also the only journal that is run entirely by students from top to bottom, without any direction by faculty members.” The editors are chosen by a democratic process from among the members of the outgoing editorial board. Their function is to oversee the entire publication process and the editorial work, and to provide liaison between the journal and the outside world.
“The members of the editorial board are the life and soul of the journal. We are also assisted by a faculty teacher, Dr. Ilan Benshalom, whom we are very fond of,” the editors say with a smile. “He helps us in aspects relating to routine management and strategic planning, rather than in the editorial work itself.” The journal sets a high bar in both academic and social terms: “Last year, we met Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch just before she retired, and we also met with State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and Professor Gavriella Shalev,” Chanan and Yelena recall. They also held a training seminar for the new editorial board, as well as three social events – the traditional Lag Ba’Omer bonfire, a social event to mark the “changing of the guard” between editorial boards, and an annual event hosted by S. Horowitz & Co. “This year, too, we will hold all kinds of events,” the editors note in anticipation. “To be honest, the members of the editorial board sometimes find themselves running from one event to the next.”
Footnote: Mishpatim Online is the internet version of the journal, featuring brief academic legal articles on hot topics in various legal fields. The website maintains the high standards of the journal, but allows publication in a much shorter timeframe. “This serves our vision of influencing legal action on a real-time basis,” the editors note.
Hukim (Journal on Legislation)
Editors: Dr. Guy Pessach (chief editor), Yael Efron (acting editor)
In a nutshell: Hukim focuses on existing and proposed legislation, as well as questions relating to the structure of Israel’s governmental and legal system. Some issues have a general character while others focus on a specific subject, such as local government. Acting editor Yael Efron notes that upcoming editions will focus on such subjects as consumerism, plea bargains and the Clean Air Law. “Many of our articles have subsequently been referenced in court rulings,” Efron notes, “and many authors add a note thanking the editorial board for their contributions to the article.”
A potted history: The journal first appeared in 2009 and is still considered a relative newcomer to the field. Deputy editor Oren Ron believes that this status offers many advantages: “There is a sense that we have managed to take all the logical and successful aspects of other journals. Other publications may continue to do things in a particular way due to inertia, but we had an opportunity to establish an efficient work process both for the editors and the authors.”
Students: Two students in their second year on the editorial who have shown themselves to be particularly capable serve as deputy editors under the acting editor. Efron discusses the profile of the student participants: “As in previous years, I have noticed again this year that many of the students on the editorial board are studying in another department alongside law. The advantage of this is that they bring broader interdisciplinary knowledge than the average law student.” Efron explains that this is reflected in their opinions of submitted articles, since they can suggest additional theories that can enrich the articles. “We look for people who want to take part in creating relevant knowledge that influences reality,” she emphasizes.
Footnote: Hukim in Brief is the online version of the journal, in which students from the editorial board discuss proposed laws or noteworthy acts of legislation. The writing is more concise than in the journal, and the review process before publication on the site is quicker. Efron reveals that the editor of Hukim in Briefplans this year to invite articles from students who are not members of the editorial board.
Israel Law Review
Editors: Faculty Dean Professor Yuval Shany and Professor Sir Nigel Rodley of the University of Essex in England (chief editors) – both of whom are world-renowned scholars in the field of international law and human rights; Dr. Yael Ronen (academic editor) and Attorney Danny Evron (executive editor).
In a nutshell: The journal is published in English and specializes in the fields of human rights, public law and international law. The articles published in the journal are not confined to Israeli law, and the journal has a clear focus on international law. The journal is published under the direction of the Minerva Center for Human Rights.
A potted history: The IsrLR has published 46 volumes and is the oldest Israeli journal published in English. Since 2009, the Minerva Center for Human Rights has assumed academic responsibility for the journal, which has become a leading international platform for discussion of human rights, public law and international law. Since 2012, the journal has been printed and produced for the faculty by Cambridge University Press, one of the leading academic publishers in the world.
Students: Noa Yesselson, a member of the editorial board, shared her experiences working on the journal: “Some things sound really boring, like footnotes, but I really enjoy them. You’re reading one article, but it’s as if you’re actually reading a whole library – sometimes even a library in a foreign language other than English.” She continues: “It’s a bit like going behind the scenes of the articles. Suddenly you gain a much broader perspective.” Just as the articles in the journal undergo a process of development, so do the students on the editorial board. “At first I felt very uncertain,” Noa admits. “I realized that this isn’t necessarily because of a lack of knowledge, but because things really need checking and changing. They encourage us to ask questions all the time.” Noa says that the work on the journal also helps the students when they turn to writing their own academic studies. They gain experience in understanding when and how to include references.
Footnote: Alongside the academic activities, the Minerva Center also organizes meetings so that the members of the editorial board can get to know each other and meet key figures from the international law community.
In the next issue, the second article in the series will focus on the non-student journals in the faculty.