September 29, 2010
A new view of scholarly impact
Some of my colleagues here at St. Thomas, led by Greg Sisk, have come up with an intriguing new measurement of scholarly impact. Actually, the method itself-- counting citations in law review articles-- was pioneered by Brian Leiter at the University of Chicago, who has done this to rank-order the top 25 law schools. Greg and the others used Brian's methodology to expand the list to 70 schools. In short, what they did was count the law review citations to work by tenured faculty at a school, then divide by the number of tenured faculty to get an average citation count per faculty member.
There is no perfect measure of something like scholarly impact, and I agree with many others that the focus by law schools on rankings has had a negative impact on legal education. However, if the rankings are with us, those of us who vote should have as many objective measures as possible to rely on, and citation counts are a pretty good objective measure of how much the work of a faculty is being noticed by peers.
It would be interesting to see a similar listing of how often courts-- both state and federal-- cite to the work of the faculties at different schools. This would give an advantage to scholarship that is practical and focused on legal issues that matter to courts. Again, such an objective measure would not be perfect... but it still would be a better basis for evaluation than the guestimates or gamesmanship that seem to dictate the votes on too many survey forms.
-- Mark Osler