Student Legal Journals: Case Notes & Reviews

On this Page:

A collection of resources and pointers for writing your comment, note, article and/or book review.

In this guide:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Selecting a Topic
  3. Topic Selection Resources
  4. Preemption Check
  5. Researching Your Topic
  6. Thesis Statement
  7. NRJ Book Reviews
  8. Style & Citation
  9. Books & More
  10. Case Note versus Comment

Resources for Student Writing

Information on submitting articles to the New Mexico Law Review for publication is located here:

Information on submitting articles to the Natural Resources Journal for publication is located here:

Information on submitting articles to the Tribal Law Journal for publication is located here:

For information on submitting articles to publications other than these UNM Law Journals, please consult the websites of those outside Journals as starting points.

While this guide was created for students on the law journals, this section may be of use to any law student as they navigate scholarly writing (comments/notes, seminar papers, or independent research) versus writing for practice.  If you have any questions, please email us ( or stop by.

The process of researching your comment or case note can include:

  • Selecting a topic and narrowing it down
  • Conducting a preemption check
  • Creating a research plan
  • Finding resources on your topic
  • Assessing the available information
  • Organizing your research



Portions of this Guide reference Part II(C) of Eugene Volokh’s Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, and Seminar Papers, (4th ed. 2010); the University of Chicago’s LibGuide on Researching and Writing Substantial Papers; and Columbia Law Review's 2014-2015 Publishable Notes Manual.

Topic Selection and Finding Issues

  1. You may have a general idea of what you want to write about, but haven’t narrowed the specific topics or subtopics you want to discuss.
  2. ›Narrowing may involve more research in the area to determine what the real issues are related to your interest.
  3. ›You might need to familiarize yourself with the general area/sub area of law as well as doctrinally connected areas. ›
  4. You might need to research for currency regarding emerging issues as well.
  5. Critically assess potential topics. As topics interest you, do quick searches of primary and secondary sources to assess the topic's potential.  Is there enough material for you to investigate and evaluate? Is the issue just complex enough to justify spending up to two years on it?  What types of resources would be most appropriate?
  6. For casenotes and comments, read the case and any relevant cases cited within it.  It is also imperative that you assess your cases using a citator such as Shepards or Keycite to determine their status and any subsequent history.

Get Inspired!

  1. Talk to faculty and others in the legal profession who research in areas of interest to you.  They may have ideas that they themselves don't have time to research.
  2. What has already piqued your interest in readings, conversation, foot notes?
  3. Ask your Editor-in-Chief about any Case Banks.
  4. Find a case you are interested in and look at its analysis.
  5. Think locally and globally: what is of intrest to New Mexico? To global social issues?
  6. Think personally: What about your own experiences?
  7. Have you identified a problem in a specific area of law?
  8. Browse legal news sites and blogs e.g. SCOTUSblog.

Before a case or statute is discussed in law reviews, it is covered in newspapers, legal newsletters, blogs, or industry magazines and newsletters. Coming across a short article about a recent case or proposed legislation may give you an idea for a topic. Look up legal news using the three major legal research databases. Many legal databases enable you to search for circuit splits or cases of first impression that are worthy of writing about.

  • Look for legal development
  • Review circuit splits and novel cases
  • Browse recent scholarly publications
  • Mine others' topic ideas, including calls for papers and writing competitions
  • Talk to people

Current Awareness Resources

  • BNA's Topical Publications (located under BNA Web Resources on the Law Library Electronic Resources page)
  • CCH's Topical Resources
  • Westlaw Topical Highlights (select Secondary Sources > Legal Newspapers & Newsletters > Westlaw Bulletins & Topical Highlights on the right-hand side under Tools & Resources)
  • Lexis' Emerging Issues Analysis (start by typing Emerging Issues Analysis into the red search bar; select "All Emerging Issues Analysis" and then enter key topical terms related to the area you want to write about)

Legal Blawgs

Both the ABA and Justia websites have blawg directories that researchers can search by subject.  Legal blawgs frequently talk about hot issues and recent decisions and can therefore be a great way to find a topic.

News Resources

Major newspapers, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post are another great resource for finding current legal issues.  Online news sources, including the following, can also be helpful for finding recent issues in the law:

Circuit Split Resources

There are a few resources that focus on circuit splits.  Look at these websites to find issues that have been resolved in different ways depending on the court. 

  • Seton Hall Circuit Review (includes a section on recent circuit splits)
  • BNA United States Law Week's Circuit Splits (select United States Law Week from list of BNA Resources, then select Circuit Splits under "Key Resources")

Recent Decisions

Reading recent decisions can also be a way to come up with a paper topic.  Try searching Westlaw and Lexis Advance for recent decisions on topics of interest.

To research Supreme Court Decisions, look at:

Additional Courts:


Huge thank you to Texas Tech for their outline.

Preemption Check

A preemption check is the process of determining whether the topic you are writing about has been substantially covered by someone else in the past. ›Preemption checks look for substantial treatment only - an article on your topic in a legal newspaper or bar journal is not considered notable.› Even if a topic has been examined by other authors it may still be a valid choice if you differentiate your paper by, say, taking a different position on an issue.

To perform a preemption check, conduct a thorough search of available legal publications:

  1. To craft an online search:
    • Think about your topic in legal terms, and construct a list of terms.
    • Use a legal thesaurus, and thesauri from any related disciplines, to identify alternative words to the terms you identified in #1.
    • Assess the search connectors in the database you will use; "connect your terms in reasonable relationships" using connectors.
  2. Search the full-text law journal databases and indexes as described in the UNMSOL LibGuide on Finding Journal Articles.
  3. Make sure to consult your indexes like Current Index to Legal Periodicals and Legal Source.
  4. Search Google Scholar.
  5. Search WorldCat catalog and
  6. Check SSRN/legal scholarship network and other scholarly legal repositories (after clicking on the links, see the box, "Free Tools for Finding Full Text Articles") for forthcoming scholarship.
  7. Search American Law Reports for annotations on your topic.  Search ALRs on LexisNexis or ALRs on Westlaw
  8. If your topic is one in a specific legal discipline or a quasi/ non legal discipline like economics or sociology, you should look for substantial treatment of the topic in those subject specific legal databases or  non-legal databases as well.

Use other resources like WestClip, a Westlaw service that allows you to keep track of the people, places, and events of interest to you. WestClip runs your Terms and Connectors queries on a regular basis and deliver the results to you automatically.

You can conduct your preemption checking using a variety of Westlaw databases to track your issue and automatically notify you of developments that may affect it. For example, watch for law review articles about the death penalty as applied to juveniles by creating a WestClip entry such as death /5 penalty /p offender characteristics in the Journals and Law Reviews database (JLR).




Researching your Topic

Create a research plan
  • ›Thoroughly understand your problem and background law by researching via secondary sources; talk to your professors specializing in that area of law.
  • ›Consult your primary law and/or data sets where needed and update regularly.
  • ›Keep a research journal.
  • ›Keep up to date on latest developments by setting up alerts in Google and Westlaw.
  • Know that you will need to evaluate your writing, and reassess your tools and sources as you write.
Assess what types of resources you need...
  • What courts, governments, branches of government have authority to speak on the issues? 
  • Do you need to consult secondary authority?
  • Where are different places to find these types of authority?
  • Consider the issue of jurisdiction, and whether you need to narrow your search to federal, state, tribal, or international jurisdiction.
    • Do you need ›secondary, persuasive authority, including authorities that provide ›academic or practical perspectives? ›legislative history?›
    • ›Do you need to reference primary authority i.e. ›Cases? ›Lower court pleadings? ›Regulations? ›Administrative opinions? ›Statutes? ›Data e.g. statistics?
  • Assess ›the availability of resources you need, and plan to obtain resources from outside libraries early.  Please refer to the UNM Law Library’s InterLibrary Loan policy.
Check out the databases below to begin researching your topic:


Listed alphabetically.

Once you select a topic and do your preliminary research, you need to develop a thesis statement. A thesis statement is the central idea that your entire paper will focus on and it includes the issue that you will resolve. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Thesis – an original and supportable proposition about the subject.
  • It is not enough to simply identify a problem – you need to try to resolve it.
  • Narrow your thesis to something manageable.
    • If the focus is sufficiently narrow, you will be able to read a lot of material and become an expert in that one area in a short amount of time.
    • Sometimes, your initial research will suggest ways to narrow focus.
  • Develop a Thesis – an original and supportable proposition about the subject
    • Find one new point, one new insight, one new way of looking at the law, and organize your entire article around that.
    • Probe sources to search for an original thesis – critical reading.
    • Read for inconsistency, logical error, and omission.
    • Write down ideas while you read.
  • After you identify your thesis, test it.
    • If your thesis identifies a problem and proposes a solution, bombard it with hypotheticals to see if the solution works in all its likely applications.


HUGE Thank you to Texas Tech for this outline.

Book Reviews for Natural Resources Journal

Some publishers automatically send copies for book reviews (see the list below).  These books and publisher catalogs are stored in the journals suite, near the main door.  NRJ 2L staff are welcome to browse and use this collection.  It is policy that older, unused books (over three years since published) are processed by the library and placed in the general collection. 

If none of these titles appeal to you, check out UNM Press, ABA Bookstore, and other University Presses.   Refine your search by looking for titles related to Environmental Law.  The book you choose will need to be a scholarly nonfiction book in the area of natural resources or the environment.  If you would like assistance researching recently published books, please contact the Law Library Reference Desk.

Once you have selected a book:

  • Search for the book in the Library Catalog.  Even if the Law Library does not own it, it may be requested from another library.
  • If the book is not owned by any libraries, request a review copy from the publisher.  Tell them it is for a book review, and they should send a review copy at no cost.  Need help doing this, email the Journals Assistant.
  • For either option give yourself plenty of time! The wait time can be from two weeks to one month, or more.

If there is a specific topic the 3L board would like to address, effort can be made prior to the 2L staff starting their year to locate review copies that would be of interest to the 2L and function within the journal issues’ theme(s). 

If you have any questions about finding a book stop by the Reference Desk, or email the Journals Assistant.  If you have questions about title selection or the assignment, please contact the appropriate editor.

We are currently receiving some, but not all, Natural Resources Law titles from the below publishers:



Articles & Other Resources


What is a Casenote?

A case note is broadly defined as an article that describes a single case and then critiques it.  There are two types of casenotes.  Traditional casenotes describe the case and discuss its practical impact.  More modern casenotes go further than this, evaluating the result and the reasoning of a case. As discussed in the comment section, it is easy to expand a casenote into a comment, and often a comment is more appropriate. The casenote generally follows a six-part pattern (but can vary depending on the topic itself): introduction, background, rationale, analysis, implications, and conclusion.

 Some typical theses for casenotes are: 

  • The result was correct, but the court proposed no clear standard for guidance in future; XYZ would be a workable standard. 
  • The result was correct, but the court never stated the real reason for its decision, which is XYZ. 
  • The result was incorrect; the court creates an exception to a constitutional provision that could swallow the rule. 
  • The result was incorrect; the court misconstrued or misused precedent.

This list from: Fajans, Elizabeth & Mary R. Falk, Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes and Law Review Competition Papers 11 (2d ed. 2000).

What are the six sections of a casenote?

  1. Introduction: Briefly describes the case and its holding and then states the thesis.  It is also the roadmap for the note, describing what each part of the note will discuss. It should be written to grab the reader’s attention and interest.
  2. Background:  A brief statement of the case, which can be its own section, if desired.  This section discusses how the case arose, its facts and all positions; it should also include any other background information that may be necessary to understand the case and your analysis of it.  Thus, the background section can include a brief discussion of important precedent, statutes or constitutional provisions used by the court in its analysis of the issue. 
  3. Rationale:  The rationale is where you lay out the court’s analysis.  You tell the reader what the court decided and the reasoning they used.  This includes any dissenting opinions as well.  This section does not include any of your independent analysis, only the court’s analysis.  In some casenotes, the Rationale and Analysis sections are combined.
  4. Analysis:  This is where you analyze the case.  In this section you discuss your thesis and back it up with all your research.  It can include several sections.  For example part of it may discuss why the court was wrong, while another part may state a solution.  This is the meat of the paper—where you really get to show the reader your analytical skills.  It can also include the implications of the court’s decision on the law.
  5. Implications:  This is where you discuss how your case affects, will affect, can affect, or should affect the law in the jurisdiction being discussed.  You may also include recommendations in this section.
  6. Conclusion:  Brief summary of the analysis and conclusion.


What is a Comment?

A comment is generally viewed as a much more expansive work, but it can be very similar to the more modern form of the casenote.  A comment covers an area of law, instead of just one case.  However, it is important to note that by choosing a case you are interested in, you are often just choosing an area of law you are interested in.  One case can easily be expanded into a comment on an area of law discussed in the case. The comment follows a basic four-part structure (that can vary a lot): introduction, background, analysis, and conclusion.  The most important thing to remember in deciding to write a comment is that it should make (1) a claim that is (2) novel, (3) nonobvious, (4) useful, (5) sound, and (6) seen by the reader to be novel, nonobvious, useful, and sound.*

Comments tend to have condensed simple theses; some examples are: 

  • Law X is unconstitutional because….
  • This law is likely to have the following side effects…
  • My empirical research shows that this law has unexpectedly led to…, and it should therefore be changed this way…
  • My empirical research shows that this law has had the following good effects…, and should therefore be kept, or extended to other jurisdictions.
  • Viewing this law from a [feminist/Catholic/economic] perspective leads us to conclude that the law is flawed, and should be changed this way.

* Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, and Seminar Papers 9 (2003). 


What are the sections of a comment?

  1. Introduction: The introduction of the comment is more in-depth than the casenote introduction.  First, you must show that there is a problem in the area of law you are discussing.  This needs to be done concretely by giving an example of the problem of the law, either real or hypothetical.  Don’t just say there is a problem then move on; illustrate it to your reader.  Second, state your claim and show its novelty, non-obviousness and utility.  State what you expect your paper to show and why it is a valuable contribution.  Third and last, present the issue to readers in a way that is clear and grabs their attention.  This will depend highly on your topic but can include things like crime statistics, environmental statistics, etc. This all must be done as clearly and concisely as possible.
  2. Background: Brief discussion of any background matters important to your later analysis.  For example: what the law is and how it got there; synthesis of precedent dealing with the law you are discussing; important historical information, etc.  This should be very focused—do not be tempted to make a mini-treatise on the area of law; only include what is really important to understanding the area of law you are covering.
  3. Analysis:  Meat of the comment.  Show that your claim is correct and back it up with tons of support.  Be thorough by discussing the other side and problems in your argument.  This can also go beyond your basic claim and include broader issues that come out of it, or parallel and subsidiary issues.  Show how your narrow claim can have an impact on many broader areas.
  4. Conclusion:  Brief.  Summarize the claim and the important conclusions.  Make sure to remind the reader of the value of your article.
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