Do “Lead” Articles, You Know… Lead?

by Kevin Jon Heller

I have a scholarship question for our readers, particularly those who have been article editors on a law review.  On three separate occasions recently, I have seen CVs that identify a particular publication as a “lead article.”  I always assumed that the order of articles in a non-thematic issue of a law review was more or less random — or at least not non-random enough to infer that the law-review considered the first article to be better or more important than those that followed. Am I mistaken in that assumption?  I hope I am, because a number of my articles have appeared first, so I’d like to start bragging…


6 Responses

  1. Hmm …  It probably made more sense in the past when professors actually looked at the physical law review, and pride of place was a physical marker.  Now … sort of think it slid away, in how professors read things online and how the law review editors think of things.  But I’m often struck by the disjunct between how student editors understand their markets and audience, and how professors do, as both producers and consumers.  I’ve had repeated conversations, year after year, with our own law review editors pointing out that what matters is getting stuff out with the school’s brandname on it, not where a non-monetary piece of scholarship is located on the web or where it is downloaded.

  2. I suspect it depends on each law review’s own policy.  I can tell you that Yale’s international law journal simply orders the articles alphabetically by last name of author, without regard to an article’s supposed importance.  So the person who ends up with 36 Yale J. Int’l L. 1 is most likely someone whose last name starts with a letter toward the start of the alphabet.

  3. Oh the advantages of being Anderson!

  4. It depends. If the issue is comprised of articles from a symposium, then the “lead” is usually the keynote speaker, so it means something.  Otherwise, my journal will either give the lead to whoever asks for it first*, or we’ll try to group the articles by sub-topic and put the one that speaks most broadly to the sub-topic as the lead for each sub-group of articles. Most of the time, it’s based on pagination issues. For example, the first page of each article has to be on an odd numbered page (there’s a long reason for this, but it’s not terribly relevant). So if an article ends on an odd numbered page, there’d have to be a blank page between that article and the one that follows it, so article 2 properly starts on an odd numbered page. Articles, at least in my journal, are ordered to reduce the incidence of blank pages. Sometimes, then, being the lead just means that your article ended on an even number page and the other articles we were considering to put first didn’t.

    *To be brutally honest, sometimes, if no one asks, and there is more than one potential lead, we give it to whichever article we’ve finished work on first, or whichever article we know will not be changing around with regard to length much once we get a proof back. If you have to re-paginate the first article, you have to re-do the whole issue which delays printing time.

  5. ‘Oh the advantages of being Anderson!’


  6. Regarding “where” on symposium issues usually if you appear in the morning panel your article will appear higher up in the issue.  Late afternoon – lower down.  Given the stiff competition to be selected, appearing anywhjere is an awesome accomplishment.  Location does not matter!!

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