Academic journal article Michigan Law Review

The Most-Cited Law Review Articles of All Time

Academic journal article Michigan Law Review

The Most-Cited Law Review Articles of All Time

Article excerpt

This Essay updates two well-known earlier studies (dated 1985 and 1996) by the first coauthor, setting forth lists of the most-cited law review articles. New research tools from the HeinOnline and Web of Science databases now allow lists to be compiled that are more thorough and more accurate than anything previously possible. Tables printed here present the 100 most-cited legal articles of all time, the 100 most-cited articles of the last twenty years, and some additional rankings. Characteristics of the top-ranked publications, authors, and law schools are analyzed as are trends in schools of legal thought. Data from the all-time rankings shed light on contributions to legal scholarship made over a long historical span; the recent-article rankings speak more to the impact of scholarship produced in the current era. The authors discuss alternative tools and metrics for measuring the impact of legal scholarship, running selected articles from the rankings through these tools to serve as points of illustration. The authors then contemplate how these alternative tools and metrics intersect with traditional citation studies and how they might impact legal scholarship in the future.

I. Previous Studies and Rationale (Shapiro)

This is the third in a series of studies that I have authored enumerating the most-cited legal articles-that is, the articles most often cited within other articles.1 The two previous installments attracted considerable attention in both the legal community and the general media. Jack Balkin and Sanford Levinson wrote, "Fred Shapiro can lay claim to be the founding father of a new and peculiar discipline: 'legal citology.' "2 The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page profile of me based on the citation rankings,3 popularizing Balkin and Levinson's term "citology" to the point where Britain's Guardian newspaper included the term in a glossary of new words of the 1990s.4 Herma Hill Kay, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, hailed my work:

Footnotes nowadays are not phony excrescences; they are the raw data used by the hottest new school of legal scholarship, the citation analysts. These bibliotechs have shown once and for all that nobody reads the text of other people's articles anyway. Anybody who is anybody in any field you care to name has already said the same thing in different words a dozen times before. There is nothing new under the sun. The only thing that is important is who cites whom. If you're cited, that means you're identified as a player in the game: a scholar of significance.5

I also published a more specific "most-cited" compilation listing the top thirty articles from the Yale Law Journal on the occasion of that law review's centennial.6 Without claiming too much significance for citology, I described citology as more than a mere parlor game and as a potentially useful tool for studying the impact of scholarship:

Citation analysis is now extensively used by information scientists and sociologists to study the history and structure of the natural sciences and other disciplines . . . .

. . . Authors too have been evaluated through tabulation of citations to their writings. Citation counts have been utilized in assessing scholars' work for purposes of grant awards, tenure, or promotion decisions.

Those using citation data for evaluative purposes have justified such use by pointing to research demonstrating a high correlation between the total of citations to a scientist's or scholar's writings and judgments by peers of the " 'productivity,' 'significance,' 'quality,' 'utility,' 'influence,' 'effectiveness,' or 'impact' of scientists and their scholarly products." One investigator has gone so far as to say that "citations and peer ratings appear to be virtually the same measurement."

Almost all citation analysts, however, are careful to note that citation counts measure a "quality" which is socially defined, reflecting the utility of the writing in question to other scholars, rather than gauging its intrinsic merit. …

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