The Most Important Article of All Time


The law review business in the U.S. began modestly. The first American law journal—the American Law Journal & Miscellaneous Repertory—published its first issue in Philadelphia in 1808. In its preface, editor John E. Hall confessed that, "the feeble exertions of a youthful individual, unaided by the impressive sanction of experience, can effect but little without the cordial cooperation of those from whom he has some right to claim assistance." In modern times, editors of new law journals have generally continued the tradition of introducing themselves with protestations of their limited powers and aspirations. But modesty and Madison Avenue don't mix, and notwithstanding their self-deprecation, those who run law journals want people to buy and read their work product. Which means marketing. Which means boasting. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the mingling of claims to serious legal scholarship with the hooting and chest-thumping necessary to grab some attention in a crowded marketplace can result in amusingly overdone puffery. Thus, even in the old days, when law journal editors shifted temporarily from the editorial pages to the advertising section, they could make the marketing mavens at Coca-Cola and R.J. Reynolds look like pikers. Entertaining examples abound. Surely there must be among American law journals some exceptions to the pattern sketched here of editorial modesty juxtaposed with marketing hyperbole. But wherever such exceptions are, should we welcome them? Aren't we better off with a scholarly publishing environment in which exaggeration and pomposity are common in the one forum, but not the other?