"Lead Articles" in Law Reviews:

Every once in a while, I come across a c.v. boasting that the author published the "lead article" in a particular law review. I've also had young colleagues ask me whether they should publish in a higher-ranked law review, or a slightly lower-ranked one that offered them "lead article" status.

My own view is that "lead article" status is completely irrelevant. First, no one actually sits down and reads an entire issue of a law review, but instead read either reprints, Hein-online printouts, or Westlaw or Lexis versions. So what's the difference if the article is the "lead" or not? No one's ever going to see it in that format, which is why no one (should) care. Second, the best law reviews seem to have a policy of publishing multiple articles in one issue alphabetically by author. I've had the "lead article" several times in major law reviews simply because my last name begins with "B." To me, at least, bragging about one's "lead article" smacks of an attempt to upgrade the status of a mediocre placement, or bespeaks a naivete about the law review market (one law review editors take advantage of, in my experience, when trying to get articles from junior faculty).

In short, in my opinion, never turn down a better placement for lead article status. And, if you want to look savvy to other law professors, never put (lead article) next to a publication on your c.v.

If others have a different opinion, or I'm missing some great insight about lead articles, feel free to comment.

UPDATE: Geoff Manne posted similar thoughts at The Conglomerate last November.

Eugene Volokh (www):
David: I think it's just a pronunciation problem -- they really mean "lead article" in the sense of "an article so weighted down with words, footnotes, and pretension that it feels like it's made of lead." It's considered a great achievement.
2.28.2006 1:53pm
In my experience, editors at a number of journals try to put what they see as the most important, substantial, or promising article (or just the article by the most prestigious author) first in the issue. So "lead article" presumably is meant to signal, "the article the editors thought was the best in that issue."

With that said, I agree with David that "lead article" status generally shouldn't be listed on an academic CV. It's generally not sufficiently notable to deserve mention, especially without knowing what the other articles were, what the journal's policy is, and why it was selected to go first.
2.28.2006 2:04pm
JLR (mail):
I know a fair amount about "lead articles" in academic journals in cognate fields, and Prof Bernstein's insights are on target to some extent. It does not really, truly matter for tenure purposes if you have a "formally designated lead article" in any journal. What matters is that you have published in top journals (American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Presidential Studies Quarterly, etc.), and that you have published widely. But having a lead article in, say, Public Administration Review or the International Journal of Feminist Studies is a laurel that is not only acceptable to put on a CV, but also expected.

If I may ask, why should someone fear putting "formally designated lead article" on their CV?


Prof Bernstein is correct that one should publish in the best journal one gets in to (whether it be social science, basic medical science, or whatever field). If one is writing a paper on rheumatoid arthritis, it is better to be published in the Annals of Internal Medicine than in, say, a less read specialist journal on rheumatology. But in disciplines where some journals have a "formally designated lead article," it seems like a harmless status enhancer.

However, no one publishing a "formally designated lead article" in a lesser journal should believe that it would help them get tenure more than the act of publishing his/her article in a more prestigious journal would.

It's simply this: [Article in Less Prestigious Journal + Formally Designated Lead Article] does NOT surpass or equal [Article in More Prestigious Journal].

Overall, you publish in the best journal you can.

Thank you.
2.28.2006 2:22pm
publius (mail) (www):
I doubt it's significant, but professors certainly think it is. I was an articles editor circa '03 (not the cite-checker, the reader-and-selector-for-the-pool), and it was suprising how often it came up. in one edition, we purposely had to switch the alphabetical default b/c an author had demanded to be the lead in "negotations."

After it kept coming up (in negotiations and cover letters to articles), I started offering it up as a cost-free bargaining chip.
2.28.2006 2:33pm
nc_litigator (mail):
as a former law review editor, i thought the "lead article" idea was rather silly, but it didn't hurt to offer that status if it had value to a prospective author. some authors asked for it.

what about lead article in a volume? is there anything impressive in the citation "XX State L. Rev. 1 (2005)"? the lead status stands out without having actually say it.
2.28.2006 2:45pm
JLR (mail):
An addendum: I want to make explicit that top journals in political science do have lead or featured articles that should be highlighted. For example, in the current APSR, the featured article is by Keith Whittington on his "overcoming obstructions" theory of political support for judicial review. Here is the abstract [link to full article here]:
The exercise of constitutional review by an independent and active judiciary is commonly regarded as against the interest of current government officials, who presumably prefer to exercise power without interference. In this article, I advance an "overcoming obstructions" account of why judicial review might be supported by existing power holders. When current elected officials are obstructed from fully implementing their own policy agenda, they may favor the active exercise of constitutional review by a sympathetic judiciary to overcome those obstructions and disrupt the status quo. This provides an explanation for why current officeholders might tolerate an activist judiciary. This dynamic is illustrated with case studies from American constitutional history addressing obstructions associated with federalism, entrenched interests, and fragmented and cross-pressured political coalitions.
Professor Whittington's theory is a very interesting and intriguing theory; moreover, it is arriving from a distiguished scholar of constitutional theory and American constitutional development. The fact that his article has "featured article" status in the most prestigious journal in the discipline grants it extra prestige.

Thank you.
2.28.2006 2:46pm
As a former articles editor (the guy who picked what got printed), I have to admit to having used the "lead article" as a bargaining chip on one occasion. It worked, in that we got the article because of my promise to make the article the lead article. But my job *wasn't* to design the cover, and it turned out we did them alphabetically that year, and so this author whom I offered the lead spot to would have gotten it anyway because her name began with B.

I'm with Professor Bernstein on this one -- "lead article" is lame.
2.28.2006 2:50pm
geoff manne (mail):
You're way behind the times, David. We already hashed this out when I was guesting on Conglomerate in a post I titled, "Lead Article? Who Cares?" Here's the link:
2.28.2006 3:01pm
Cheburashka (mail):
David, you're correct in the general but, I think, wrong in specific circumstances.

In particular, the lead article of a symposia issue is more prestigious than others, and I don't believe any journal organizes symposia issues by author's last name.
2.28.2006 3:05pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Cheb, yes if the symposium focuses on a particular article, that's significant.
2.28.2006 3:25pm
JLR (mail):
I have a few questions that are still outstanding if anyone would like to answer any or all of them:

Why, if I may ask, would it not be "savvy" to put "lead article" from a law review on your CV? What's the harm?

Or is all of this a byproduct of the Law Review system generally as compared to the systems other academic disciplines use for their journals? In medical science, medical students do not edit the journals; only the most distinguished scientists do. In the humanities and social sciences, distinguished scholars are generally the editors of journals, especially the top ones.

To use political science (which is often a cognate discipline to law) as an example, George Edwards of Texas A&M, who is a top scholar of the American Presidency, is editor of Presidential Studies Quarterly. Professor Lee Sigelman of GW is editor of the American Political Science Review. Moreover, APSR at present is searching for a new editor; [here is a link] to the APSA's invitation to receive nominations for APSR editor starting in 2007 when Professor Sigelman will complete his second term as editor. As should be obvious even before looking at the invitation for nominations, Ph.D. candidates in political science are not the field of nominees the search committee desires.

If Law Reviews were run the way medical and academic journals were run, would Prof Bernstein's question be moot?

Thank you.
2.28.2006 3:53pm
JLR (mail):
FYI -- the reasons why it is, at the very least, harmless to put "lead article" or "featured article" on a CV in disciplines other than law are adumbrated in an earlier comment in this thread [link here]. As I point out in that earlier comment, the reasons Professor Bernstein make sense, but only to a certain extent.

As I wrote above:
It's simply this: [Article in Less Prestigious Journal + Formally Designated Lead Article] does NOT surpass or equal [Article in More Prestigious Journal].
Overall, you publish in the best journal you can.
But I don't see why it would be detrimental to one's rank and tenure chances to put the information on one's CV. Extra information about one's articles shouldn't incur a penalty. But accumulating "lead articles" in lesser journals at the expense of publishing in elite journals should incur a penalty.

Thank you.
2.28.2006 3:58pm
JLR (mail):
Correction in italics to above 2.28.06 3:58 pm post: "the reasons Professor Bernstein provide make sense, but only to a certain extent." Thanks for your patience.
2.28.2006 4:01pm
JLR (mail):
I reread the post and subsequent comments carefully. The first note is that "lead article" is only valuable for journals that don't alphabetize. For example, Presidential Studies Quarterly alphabetizes their articles, but the articles precede their "features." "Lead article" by itself, without qualification, is completely misleading and definitely should not be put on a CV.

Also, HeinOnline I believe reproduces the Tables of Contents for Law Journals. If it is a "featured article," then HeinOnline I believe would indicate that. However, I am not as familiar with HeinOnline as I am with JStor and other databases.

Moreover, it sounds as if Law Reviews' "featured articles" just simply aren't as important as "featured articles" in other disciplines, and that it is possible that a few r&t committees not only don't care about it (which is understandable), but would also actually penalize an applicant for even mentioning it on the CV. It is this penalty component that I still don't really understand. Professor Kerr's remarks seem more prudent: viz., it's all about context, as special issues are different from ordinary issues; symposia are different from issues that do not contain symposia (as Prof Bernstein notes in an above comment); and the fact that certain published articles may simply be of a unique nature as to warrant some sort of added explanation as to why it was a "featured article."

Nevertheless, regardless if one chooses Professor Bernstein's or Professor Kerr's approach, it seems to me that the legal academic world generally does not give much attention to whether Law Review editors believe an article is particularly noteworthy (unless specific circumstances dictate otherwise).

The comments that indicate Law Reviews mainly use "lead article" status to lure scholars' papers away from other journals (as opposed to indicate true scholarly significance) are interesting. The policy sounds similar to lower-tier law schools offering full tuition-free merit scholarships to admits who have probably also received top-10 law school acceptances.

I suppose the legal academic world deviates from the medical and A&S academic worlds in many other respects other than just this "featured article" situation (e.g., the aforementioned and widely known student-editing). I wonder what differences (besides "featured article" and student editing) are most particularly salient in understanding how legal academic publishing works.

The original post and subsequent comments have been very enlightening.
2.28.2006 5:30pm
Kovarsky (mail):
being a "lead" article in the law review is kind of like being the "vice" president.

o wait....
2.28.2006 5:43pm