July 13, 2005
Navel Gazing (Part XXVII)
Posted by Dave Hoffman

Tom Smith (of The Web of Law fame) has an interesting new post disclosing preliminary results of an empirical look at law review citation in the Lexis database.  Headlines:

First of all, 43 percent of the articles are not cited . . . at all. Zero, nada, zilch. Almost 80 percent (i.e. 79 percent) of law review articles get ten or fewer citations. So where are all the citations going? Well, let's look at articles that get more than 100 citations. These are the elite. They make up less than 1 percent of all articles, .898 percent to be precise. They get, is anybody listening out there?  96 percent of all citations to law review articles.  That's all.  Only 96 percent.  Talk about concentration of wealth.

Interesting, but possibly misleading.  My sense is that the Lexis law review database is significantly smaller that the WL database, just as its caselaw database is smaller than the WL equivalent (as I'm discovering in a paper I'm currently writing). So, I guess I'd be a little surprised if this result would completely hold up if I burdened a research assistant with the painful task of checking I checked citations on paper copies of the law reviews.

But, as a project, it would be interesting if Tom wanted to use this data to create a more sophisticated ranking of journals than those that are already around.  In particular, I think it would be useful to rank journals on the following factors, which are hard to get in the existing literature: (1) average citation per article, controlling for author average citation; (2) changes over time; and (3) how long "a tail" of time can you expect to be cited?.  Obviously, I'd look for surprises from this research that might break the deathhold of the US News rankings on law review selection.

Putting aside prestige games, it has to be true that very few articles get cited more than 100 times.  And even those "elite" aren't necessarily changing real people's lives.  (For a less-cited article that actually did, go here and read Susan Hamill's article on the judeo christian foundation of tax reform in Alabama, which inspired a (failed) political movement.)  Which is why the impetus to write has to be more internal than external for me.

Tom worries that people might think that scholarship is irrelevant because it doesn't get cited much.  It strikes me that citation insecurity is exactly what SSRN was created to remedy.  The lesson then, for me, is that you should go here now and download something

(Hat Tip: Prawfsblawg.)

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