July 07, 2010
Will Empirical Legal Studies Be Cited?
Posted by David Zaring

Almost all economists, and certainly most of the well-cited ones, are quantitative empiricists now (and really a particular kind of empiricist, now they don't do big regressions, they look for instruments or experiments) - that's up from circa zero empiricists 50 years ago.  Political science is a bit more heterogeneous, but APSR is almost exclusively the domain of quantitative empiricists, leading some in that field to observe, as Brian Leiter did yesterday re empirical legal studies, that the field is risking becoming arcane and narrow (here's Josh Wright and Professor Bainbridge on it too). 

When will law follow suit?  I think it will take a while, not least because the sort of state of the art that people with Ph.Ds are expected to do is a very far cry from the sort of work almost any law professor could be expected to do.  I like my colleagues in the Finance Department, in other words, but I don't submit to the Journal of Finance (here's the latest edition - some of the subjects are of interest, but do have a look at the methods sections).  In a discipline where only a tiny minority of the faculty have social science Ph.Ds, the tipping point towards technical empiricism is harder to identify than it probably is for economics and political science ... and that's not counting the possibility of buyer's remorse in those fields, or in this one, the conflation of the Ph.D with the ability or desire to do empirical work, the prospect that a subgroup will go down an unproductive rabbit hole (as far as I can tell, the law and courts people are still trying to decide whether the law constrains people, especially judges), and so on. 

But look, corporate law and law and economics have been acquainted with empiricism as long as anyone, and one way of looking at how ELS is doing would be to see how those scholars are being cited, and for that we might consider Leiter's own invaluable empirical research.

Here's the corporate law list:

John Coffee

Lucian Bebchuk

Larry Ribstein

Stephen Bainbridge

Roberta Romano

Ronald J. Gilson

Reinier Kraakman

Bernard Black

Donald Langevoort

Robert Thompson

Runners-up for the top ten

Henry Hansmann

Mark Roe

Lynn Stout

Stephen Choi

Jill Fisch

Highly Cited Scholars Whose Cites Are Not Exclusively in This Area

Jonathan Macey

Melvin Eisenberg

On which I count between 2 and 4 empiricists.  Here's the law and economics list:

Richard Epstein

Eric Posner

Ian Ayres

Steven Shavell

Robert Cooter

Louis Kaplow

Thomas Ulen

Christine Jolls

Einer Elhauge

George Priest

W. Kip Viscusi

Runners-Up for the Top Ten

Lewis Kornhauser

Saul Levmore

A. Mitchell Polinsky

On which I count between 4 and 6 (though I may be missing some).  For a total of between 6 and 10 out of 31.  This is the senior list, but I've got to tell you, I don't think lists of juniors would be that different (you could look at the youngest members of Leiter's list and consider whether they would characterize themselves as empiricists or not).  And those are the most economically-oriented fields.  With everyone at every school doing scholarship now, I predict that there will be many scholars who write and cite work that isn't empirical, or the kind of empirical that social scientists understand as empirical, for years.  Of course, social scientific empiricists won't care who cites them if they get jobs that they like, but still, you take the point.

Anyway, I'm not sure what to make of this.  Nobody wants solely doctrinal scholarship or totally ungrounded theory.  I do some "empirical" work, but I do it to be an upstanding member of the community, to take first cracks at developing data that someone else might use, to add context to nonempirical papers, and to steel myself to keep reading that literature.  I wouldn't advise anyone else to do anything more than that, unless they've got their Ph.D and go to social science conferences, but your mileage may vary.

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