I just came across a law review article title that does an unusually good job of intriguing and informing its likely readers. As you’ll see in a moment, it is entirely meaningless to most people who don’t know the two cases it refers to (which is one reason I generally recommend against including case names in most article titles). But those readers at whom it’s aimed will know the cases, and they’ll quickly grasp what the article is saying:
What’s rare is that the title doesn’t just explain the subject of the article — it instantly conveys to the knowledgeable reader what the article’s novel, nonobvious, and potentially useful insight is. For those of our readers who don’t know, Twombly is the controversial recent Supreme Court decision that held that courts can dismiss a complaint before discovery (compelled document production, depositions, and so on) when the complaint seems insufficiently “plausible.” The upside of the decision is that it spares likely nonculpable defendants the often extremely expensive and time-consuming court-ordered discovery, which can be especially expensive in large antitrust cases such as Twombly itself. The downside is that it deprives plaintiffs — who likely have no case (given that the court thinks the complaint isn’t “plausible”), but possibly do have one — of the information that they could use to prove their case. Mathews v. Eldridge is the earlier Supreme Court case that set forth a balancing test for deciding when certain civil litigation rules violate the Due Process Clause, because they impose excessive burdens on those people whose liberty or property is constrained by those rules.
The article’s insight is that Twombly makes sense because of Mathews — that discovery is a coercive court procedure that likewise should be justified under the Due Process Clause, and that under circumstances such as in Twombly itself, such discovery is not justified. Now you might agree or disagree with that, but a civil procedure scholar friend of mine assures me that this is indeed a relatively novel and nonobvious conclusion.
And the title immediately conveys to knowledgeable readers (even those who, like me, don’t work in civil procedure but have heard of these two important Supreme Court cases) exactly what the value added by the article is going to be. This increases the chances that people who see the article title in Lexis or Westlaw search results, and find the claim relevant, will indeed read the article. It means that even people who don’t read the article might be persuaded by the insight, at least to the point of recognizing it as a possible argument to consider. And it means that people who read the title will be more likely to at least remember the insight, and go back to the article later when the article’s claim becomes more directly relevant to them.
So I thought this was worth noting for people who are looking for good titles for their articles. Not all claims can be quickly and clearly summarized (again, “clearly” meaning “clearly for the likely readers of the article”) in several words. But if they can be, that could be a very effective title.