Do you find the simultaneous collapse of American democracy and the rise of conservative juristocracy to be, let’s say, “troubling”? The bad news is that Balls & Strikes, by itself, is powerless to stop these things. The good news is that we will pay you decent money to write about them.
Yes, your pals at Balls & Strikes are always looking for new voices and would love to hear from you, unless you are literally Samuel Alito, in which case you face—sorry, just being transparent—an uphill battle to getting the green light here. Read on to find out more about what we look for in a story; what makes a freelance pitch successful; and how much money, exactly, we are talking about here.
Please don’t make me scroll to the very bottom of this page just to find the pitch email address.
Fair enough. [email protected].
Great, okay. What makes for a good story?
Balls & Strikes covers courts, the judges who preside over them, and the legal system they uphold. Specifically, we are looking for critical perspectives on these extremely powerful institutions, and for writers who do not think an outcome is necessarily good just because it is the product of an archaic process run by argumentative people with six figures’ worth of law school debt. Our coverage focuses on the real-world consequences of what judges do, and not on parsing the precise jurisprudential philosophy they did or did not apply in order to arrive at a given result.
We also look for people who like making jokes, because there is more than enough boring legal journalism in the world, and we do not need to play a role in making this crisis any worse.
How long is a typical story?
If you’ve been reading Balls & Strikes for a while, you’re pretty familiar with our bread-and-butter: original reporting and voice-y commentary on court opinions, judicial nominations, the legal profession, and legal academia. Typically, these essays run between 800 and 1200 words.
Although Balls & Strikes does a better job of covering many of the same stories other outlets cover, we are also interested in pitches for stories that might slip through the cracks elsewhere. Deep-dive analyses of sparsely-discussed Supreme Court cases that highlight the legal system’s failures, like this, are great. So are stories about people whose petitions the Court turns away, since the cases the justices ignore say as much about their priorities as the cases they accept.
That said, we also love pitches that are a little less tethered to the news cycle: explainers of important legal concepts and (usually) why they are bad, Q&As with smart people who have good ideas, and reviews of law-adjacent books, movies, TV shows, articles, and the like. If your day job prevents you from cranking out scorching takes on whatever is trending on Mark Zuckerberg’s internet at that precise moment, this is the kind of thing that might fit your schedule a little better.
What does a successful pitch email look like?
Start with a sample headline or two, since that’s usually the tidiest distillation of your idea. Then, 3-4 sentences about what you want to write about, why it matters, and why you, specifically, want to write this. (“To get paid money” is a perfectly acceptable answer, to be clear.)
Do I have to have written elsewhere in order to write for Balls & Strikes?
God, no. One of the reasons establishment legal media is so toweringly awful is that is that it’s very difficult to get paid to write about courts and the law unless you have a track record of getting paid to write about courts and the law, which helps explain why so many pundits make the same mistakes over and over again. We at Balls & Strikes want to include more voices in the proverbial Discourse, especially from writers whose perspectives are traditionally underrepresented at legacy outlets.
So, if you have clips of your writing from elsewhere, great! Send them. If you don’t, it’s fine. Your good idea matters way, way more than how many retweets of your other good ideas you’ve received in the past. Again, there is more than enough boring legal journalism in the world, and writing here does not require you to have previously been a part of it.
What should I not pitch?
A core component of Balls & Strikes’ coverage is that “the law” is a broader subject than most legal pundits tend to treat it. Pitches about politics, policy, culture, or anything else, really, are great, as long as there is a connection back to the legal system, and to the myriad ways in which it fails to deliver on its lofty promises of “equal justice for all” or whatever.
That said, straight policy and straight politics stories are no good here. If you would like to write about how student loan debt forgiveness would be good policy and good strategy for Democrats, or point out that Mitch McConnell is what would happen if Foghorn Leghorn received the Dementor’s Kiss, you’re not wrong, but you’ll have to find someplace else to do it.
Enough small talk. How much money?
Typically, we pay $500 for essays of about 1000 words, and adjust both figures up or down based on a project’s scope, the depth of necessary research, your availability, and the like. Why make Elon Musk 0.00000001 percent richer by tweeting your good ideas when you can put that money in your pocket instead?