Joy and the Art of Note-Writing

BU students who are on law journals are responsible, at some point in their time on the journal, for writing a “note.” As you will find with many things in law school, “notes” are deceptively named behemoths; weighing in at 35 or 40 pages, a note covers a legal topic from a unique perspective.

As a member of the International Law Journal, I wanted to really relish the experience of writing my note. (Yes, I am a nerd.) Rather than stress about writing while I was taking classes, I decided to let my ideas marinate until Christmas break of my second year, when I could really hunker down and soak in the whole writing process.

I come to law school with a general interest in economic and social rights, like the right to work, and decided my note would touch on this topic in some way. I started reading books like Constituting Economic and Social Rights and Rights Talk, which discuss the feasibility of guaranteeing economic and social rights. I looked at countries like South Africa and Italy, whose constitutions grant their citizens the affirmative (and enforceable) right to work, and compared employment statistics in these nations to employment statistics in other nations. No particularly legal argument jumped out at me. I travelled home for Christmas break without any strong idea of what I’d write.

I let my brain rest at home, and returned to Boston a week before classes started – just in time for a series of spectacular snowstorms – and settled in for a long winter’s thinking session.

Taking a thinking break (and cheering on the Terriers Hockey)!

Taking a thinking break to cheer the BU hockey team to victory. Gooo Terriers!

Finally, it all hit me. During the fall semester, I got to take a trip to Turkey, studying refugee issues with the International Human Rights Clinic. (I wasn’t a BU blogger back then, but I wrote about the trip anyway – to read more about that amazing trip, see my guest post on Aaron’s blog.) While I was in Turkey, I heard time and time again that refugees in Turkey were not legally allowed to work. Turkey had signed an international treaty on Economic and Social Rights, guaranteeing its own citizens the right to work for a living wage. After some research, I found that nobody had tried to make the argument that signing the treaty obligated Turkey to provide Syrian refugees with the legal right (though not the guarantee) to legally work within the country, where jobs were available.

Suddenly, I was off on my research adventure. I poured through research databases, downloading every article I could find about economic and social rights, issues specific to Syrian refugees, refugee rights, and economic and social rights generally. I prowled through the stacks in the Law Library Annex, picking out books about economic and social rights, as well as general reference books on economics and poverty policy for general reference.

The snowy banks of the Charles River: a perfect thinking spot.

The snowy banks of the Charles River: a perfect thinking spot.

I spent the next week camped out at coffee shops and bakeries near my apartment in Brighton, munching on cookies, sipping coffee, and pouring through research, letting my thoughts rumble around, gaining weight and substance. I took long walks in the snow and talked my ideas through with friends. I didn’t actually write a sentence. It was a blissful week of academic freedom.

Study snacks at Athan's Bakery in Brighton.

Study snacks at Athan’s Bakery in Brighton.

I cherished the feeling of deadline-free thinking for as long as possible, and wrote my first actual draft in a single frenetic weekend. I needed the push of a hard deadline to finally get all of my ideas out onto paper. From there, the process flowed just as it does for any other paper. After catching up on sleep and taking a bit of a break from my ideas, I revisited the paper for a round of editing. I turned my paper in to my faculty advisor, and she provided excellent advice about further research to ensure that my paper roundly addressed the issue I confronted. The end of the semester was fast approaching, and with it, exams. Rather than rushing myself through the revision process, I decided to wait until the summer so that, again, I could enjoy the process. The end result was an article that will soon be published in BU’s International Law Journal. While my only reader will likely be my grandma—and she may only read half—the experience is one that I cannot recommend enough. Writing a note is truly an exercise in free thinking, and an incredible opportunity to consciously focus the act of learning. Enjoy it!


John W. White posted on July 18, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Sarah, very instructive on the process of writing and the “use” of deadlines. Please email me a copy of your article to be published in the BU International Law Journal.

Thanks, John

Sarah Bidinger posted on July 18, 2015 at 10:02 pm

John, thank you for reading and for your kind words! My note has been published, and is available through the International Law Journal’s website:

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