My Requirements for a Supervised Academic Paper

Students regularly ask me to supervise a paper of theirs. This blog post discusses my suggestions and requirements if you want me to supervise your paper.

1) At your earliest convenience, read Prof. Eugene Volokh’s book, Academic Legal Writing [Amazon Affiliate link]. Copies are available in the library, the bookstore and online. This is a terrific book that (among other things) efficiently explains how to select a paper topic (and how NOT to do so). This book will save you a lot of time in the paper-writing process, so the earlier you read it, the better off you will be.

2) In my opinion, selecting a paper topic is the most critical stage in the paper-writing process. A paper with a poor topic still will be a poor paper, no matter how well-written or researched it is. In contrast, if the topic is stellar, a paper can be a star paper even if it is only competently executed. So there is little point in marrying a poor paper topic, as it will simply mean that you are investing a lot of hard work in a paper with little or no upside.

Unfortunately, it is hard to find a worthwhile paper topic. Then again, I may be more demanding about paper topics than other professors. I routinely reject paper topics that (a) are case notes, (b) are already well-covered by the existing literature (or are going to be imminently flooded by papers in queue), (c) relate to a current event (such as pending legislation or a current dust-up) that likely will be forgotten in 12-18 months or has a high risk of mooting by subsequent developments, or (d) seek to recap the existing state of the law rather than advancing the dialogue. There are no shortcuts to picking a good topic, so I expect that generally you will do a fair amount of upfront work evaluating potential topics (including doing careful precedent checks to assess the originality of your proposed topic), and it’s probable that I will reject several of your topic proposals before we find a mutually acceptable topic.

3) After we agree upon a paper topic, I will ask you to provide me your preferred schedule of deliverables with your own self-selected deadlines. I am not good about proactively cracking the whip on you; instead, I prefer that you let me know how you like to work, and then I can enforce your self-selected deadlines if you prefer. However, if you are the kind of writer that needs a professor to constantly hound you on deadlines and deliverables, I may not be the best choice.

You can pick any delivery schedule you want, but if you delay your work until the end of the semester, you run a serious risk of having me raise major structural concerns about the paper with little time for corrective measures.

4) I think it’s very hard (if not impossible) to write a publishable paper in a single semester from a “cold start.” However, I will be happy to work with you even after the semester if you want to make your paper publishable or if you want to submit it to the writing competitions. On that front, you might educate yourself about possible writing competitions using my mom’s book, How to Pay for Your Law Degree [Amazon Affiliate link; but I recommend you look at the copies are in the library].