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Friday, September 02, 2011

Burying the Lead?: Does a C.V. Listing "Lead Article" Status Make You Think More Favorably, Less Favorably, or No Differently About a Person?

Over at The Faculty Lounge, Bridget Crawford has a provocative post listing the ten worst things for a law professor to put on a c.v. and soliciting additional suggestions. In the lively comments section, commenters suggest additional entries such as Registered sex offender, Featured on TV's "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant,"  and Class Rank: Top 80%.  There are also the following 2 comments:

•Seriously: what about "lead article" with respect to one's scholarship?

•I'm with Dave - "lead article" always strikes me as being a little self-inflated and overblown. Okay, so you were the first to ask that journal to be the lead article - or perhaps you're actually one of the better articles being published by that journal in that issue or volume. So what? To me it signals hardly anything meaningful - except that the person (mistakenly) thinks this is a great accomplishment. And you actually see this from lots of more senior colleagues. Maybe I'm missing something.

So, is the 2nd commenter missing something? If you were seeking to hire someone at your law school or making a tenure decision, and the candidate listed "lead article" next to one of her articles, how would you feel about the candidate? More favorably? Less favorably? No differently? Likely to have this initial impression erased when you actually read the article and reached your own conclusion concerning its quality? Let's start with a poll, and then I will have some additional thoughts. Comments would be appreciated from authors as well as current/recent editorial board members who could comment on what goes into offering "lead article" status.

How Do You Feel About Someone Who Lists "Lead Article" on Her C.V.?
More favorably
Less favorably
No differently
pollcode.com free polls 



I did some research on the subject and didn't find too much. In Legal Writers Writing: Scholarship and the Demarginalization of Legal Writing Instructors, 5 Legal Writing: J. Legal Writing Inst. 225, 250 (1999), Toni M. Fine notes that

To some writers, having a piece be the lead article in a law review is an important consideration. While the psychological effects of lead-article status can be enormous for the writer, the practical impact is probably not significant. With the burgeoning use of computer-assisted legal research to download or print articles, lead status is usually not apparent to the reader. [FN65]

[FN65]. If an article begins on page 1 of a journal issue, then it is clear that the article was the lead. If a lead article does not begin on page 1 because it is not the first installment in the volume, unless one reads the hard copy of the entire issue, the reader will not even know that the article was the lead in a particular issue.

Nevertheless, if this is an important issue to the writer, it is a bargaining point that can be used to help one decide between journals of otherwise equivalent interest to the author. Overall, however, the other issues discussed above are likely to be far more important considerations in selecting from among multiple offers of publication.

Interesting. This seems to suggest that "lead article" status used to be important in the days when people primarily read print law reviews from front to the end of the first or second article back. Nowadays, when people primarily search for articles on Westlaw or Lexis and pull up the third article from a recent issue of the Texas Law Review alongside the "lead article" from a recent issue of The Georgetown Law Journal, the distinction doesn't seem as relevant.

In this sense, is "lead article" status like certain body parts/functions that have been rendered evolutionarily unnecessary, like goosebumps or wisdom teeth? And if that's the case, if authors do have a preference for "lead article" status, is this preference merely a vestige of a world that no longer exists? And are law reviews like restaurants, dangling lead article status like restaurants dangle especially expensive items at the top of a menu to make other items seem more reasonably priced? That certainly seemed to be the consensus among commenters when Kevin Jon Heller posed the issue on Opinio Juris last year.

Or is it just the opposite? I kind of get the sense that "lead article" status never used to be important or even a "thing" until recently, when legal academia became obsessed with USNWR-induced ranking hysteria. In The History and Influence of the. Law Review Institution, 30 Akron L. Rev. 15, 17 (1996), Michael L. Closen and Robert J. Dzielak note that

Traditionally, law reviews contained one type of substantial non-student manuscript, known as the lead article. Although modern law reviews contain several different types of manuscripts, law review pages are dominated by professional non-student lead articles. The title “lead” derives from the articles' placement in the front of the law review, before the student publication section. Interestingly, some law reviews refer only to the single piece that begins an edition as the lead article. Regardless of whether a lead article is limited to the first article to appear in an edition or to all articles located in the front of an edition, lead articles have distinct qualities that differentiate them from essays, book reviews, and student publications.

So, did it go like this? Law reviews used to refer to all non-student articles as "lead" articles. Then, some editor got the bright idea that her law review could offer "lead article" status to one author per issue and induce that author to publish with that law review rather than one ranked more highly under the theory that some articles are more equal than others? I certainly don't remember "lead article" status being something we offered to authors when I was on law review in 2002-2003, so was this a relatively recent occurrence? Or is this a practice that is older than dirt? And does such status mean that an article is "better" (whatever that means), such that "lead article" status should be listed on someone's C.V.? Or is it like MENSA membership, Boy Scout Leadershp, and pre-collegiate employment?

-Colin Miller

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As an untenured prof, the only thing that seems to matter is whether my colleagues who will eventually vote on my tenure care. If they do, then I care about lead article. If they don't, then it's one more of a long list of ridiculous, half-brained ways of determining quality without having to actually read an article.

Posted by: anonanonanon | Sep 20, 2011 8:56:20 PM


Where EGOTRIP = Evaluation (Given Opportunity To Read Interesting Pieces)
USNWRP = USNWR Peer Ranking
USNWRO = USNWR Overall Ranking
SJDF = Specialty Journal Discount Factor (note it is the natural log of this number, given that it changes up and down the food chain)
WLCR = Washington & Lee Citation Ranking
PN = Page number

I find this system of evaluating the merit of an article to be far superior to reading it.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Sep 3, 2011 9:39:49 AM

As a LR editor of recent vintage, I can tell you the only reason we ever gave "lead article" status was if an author requested it (and I think we only really figured out what lead article status was when one author raised it in their negotiations). Our sense was that there were authors out there who cared about this (though we couldn't understand why) and so if giving them lead article status made them happy/more likely to accept our offer, we'd use it. But we remained largely baffled about why anyone would care and thought it was kind of silly.

(I don't know why just publishing in alphabetical order never occurred to us, but for some reason it didn't; I guess we just never did that. Plus if lead article status could help us land a piece we liked, we'd use it - we were just highly enough ranked to get some of the really top submissions, read, them, love them, and lose them to top-15 LRs, dang it.)

Which is a long-winded way of saying that since in my experience it was a meaningless distinction, I would not be interested in seeing it on someone's c.v. (It makes me think of the author whose c.v. said they were ranked in the top 4.5% of their graduating class. 4.5%? Really? You can't just say 5%??)

Posted by: yet another anon | Sep 3, 2011 2:33:21 AM

Just to disaggregate the two questions, there are two issues: (1) whether the lead article is any "better," and (2) whether one should put it on the CV.

The answer to the first is "perhaps very rarely." There are many possible reasons the article gets placed first in an issue, most of which are non-substantive (it was accepted first, the author's name starts with an "A", etc.), but sometimes it is a bargaining point. Thus, it may be a signal quality, but surely a very weak one.

And there are some signal qualities that are seen as so weak, and so tacky, that it sends a stronger negative message than the benefit. For example, having a high LSAT score or SAT score or MENSA membership might send a weak signal quality, but it is considered so weak that it is outweighed. Similarly, putting the lead article on your CV (e.g. as a meat market candidate) indicates many negative things: (1) you were desperate when placing the article, (2) you are desperate now, (3) you don't know academic conventions not to put this on your CV, and (4) you don't know how to use the internet to find out about academic conventions for what to put on a CV.

On a pro and con balance, not even close.

Posted by: TJ | Sep 2, 2011 7:26:48 PM

Wait? We're supposed to want to be the lead article? I always thought you got as many points as the starting page number, so that an article starting on page 2401 is worth far more than the one measly point you get for a lead article. I've been playing it wrong all these years?

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Sep 2, 2011 6:01:47 PM

I posted on Volokh about this in 2006: http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_02_26-2006_03_04.shtml#1141152410 "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."

Posted by: David Bernstein | Sep 2, 2011 2:48:58 PM

it reeks of desperation. whether the person is actually desperate is a separate question - but the signal it sends re: desperation dominates any increment of stature it adds to the CV.

i also don't think it sends the signal that it's a "wee bit better." there are all sorts of reasons why someone might be the first article in a volume, and people will almost always assume that some other reason accounted for lead status.


Posted by: kovarsky | Sep 2, 2011 12:35:18 PM

I have the same issue as Heidi - I'm at the beginning of the alphabet, so two of my three publications have been a "lead article." Big deal. It obviously means nothing.

Posted by: 2ndyrprof | Sep 2, 2011 10:48:54 AM

I took Bridget's question to be "What kinds of facts, if listed on a CV, are likely to produce more negative than positive reaction?" It seems that the risk of noting that your article was the lead is that you might be perceived as competitive to the point of pettiness. This could easily overwhelm the message you intend to convey--that your article was the best of the issue. Perhaps this is unfair but everyone is trying to divine the person behind the CV. And the presentation of facts reveals more than just the facts. Appellate brief anyone?

Posted by: Lev | Sep 2, 2011 10:47:34 AM

The label is treated as meaningful by many journals, so we remove an arrow from their arsenal of negotiating terms if we don't embrace it as well. For instance, I received an offer from a lower ranked journal and it touted lead article status.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 2, 2011 10:00:31 AM

I personally don't do it because my married name starts with "A" and I get the lead article position that way. That's actually why I chose my husband over another suitor--to increase my chances of being the lead article every time. On a more serious note, I wouldn't put it on my CV. It's like saying "my article was just a wee bit better than all the others in the issue." And that seems wrong in some way. But I get the compulsion to do it. I see it done more often when the journal perhaps isn't up to par with the other journals on the resume.

Posted by: Heidi Anderson | Sep 2, 2011 9:30:26 AM

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