Reputation and Citation (Warning: Insular Post)

The Hierarchy of Law Professor Hiring, Courtesy of Katz et al.

The Hierarchy of Law Professor Hiring, Courtesy of Katz et al.

An interesting paper is making the rounds in the economics blogging community, called Markets for Reputation: Evidence on Quality and Quantity in Academe, by Hamermesh and Pfann.  As Cowen summarizes:

“1. Adjusting for citations and other measures, “reputation” (defined both in terms of awards and the quality of the department you inhabit), does not rise with the quantity of articles published by an individual.

2. Adjusting for citations and other variables, having your citations in a single dominant piece, rather than scattered across a greater number of pieces, does not predict reputation.

3. The quantity of articles published does predict mobility and salary (adjusting for quality), even though it does not predict reputation.”

Since law professors don’t have access to a central citation clearinghouse for our work, we can’t exactly replicate the analysis.  But  I am skeptical that these findings would translate well to law schools:

First, we don’t have a tradition of counting citations as a proxy for quality, and for good reason.   Leiter’s rankings may influence that norm over time, but I tend to doubt it because he doesn’t attempt to fully capture citations across the web of science or other indisciplinary journals. In a world where most of the most active scholars are co-authoring across departments, JLR citation counts are increasingly irrelevant.  At best, JLR counts are probably decent proxies for the influence of older scholars.  If someone could develop a law database that was both wide and deep, citation counts would be a useful tool for hiring.  That database would have to extend back in time, covered all of the possible citation outlets, and it incorporate professors at both elite and non-elite institutions.  In the absence of such a database, citation analysis of law review articles for the purpose of inferring professor quality or reputation is currently unreliable, and often silly.  (Not yours, BL!)

Second, I do think that many of the top scholars in my sub-field — BLE, empirics of private law — are known for one or two dominant works, and not (necessarily) a greater number of smaller pieces. In part this is because traditionally law review articles are much longer than articles in other disciplines, and take much more time to write.  A typical star academic in the 1980s and 1990s wrote 3-5 pieces before receiving tenure.  With fewer bullets came more pressure to hit the target: you really could make or break a reputation on one piece.  This may be changing.  I hope so!  Given the letterhead effect, the dominant piece norm significantly biases reputation markets in favor of people originally hired at super-elite institutions.

Third, I tend to think that the legal academy is a significantly more hierarchical and static market than other parts of the academy, in part because lawyers are much more conservative (small-c) than other professions, in part because scholarship in the legal academy was until very recently concentrated at a few schools, and in part because law schools face unique pressures to hire locally (to promote employment and alumni relations).

Still, it’s an interesting project. Check the paper out.

For more on this topic, see this link-rich short article by Paul Caron.

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5 Responses

  1. Paul Secunda says:


    You know I love you, but I wonder where you came up with this sentence:

    “In a world where most of the most active scholars are co-authoring across departments, JLR citation counts are increasingly irrelevant.”

    What authority or support do you have for the assertion that most active scholars are co-authoring across department? Sure this probably true in interdisciplinary areas like law and economics, but I have the gut feeling there are many, many active scholars who are strictly law-oriented and have never co-authored at all or at least, not co-authored across departments at their or other institutions.

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    Authority: none. Support: gut + observation of the SSRN journals in corporate law, securities law, and empirical and experimental papers. Maybe this isn’t true at all in con law or crim. Or, I take it, employment law.

    And the point remains largely accurate even if I’m wrong on the facts (of course – what good point wouldn’t) because citation outside of JLR is the norm in fields like international law & health law, both very important and growing.

  3. Paul Secunda says:

    Ok. Fair enough. The fields you mention do have more of an interdisciplinary bent, but I still think the 5-6 areas that you mention in your comment don’t account for a tenth of all scholarship (SSRN download counts not withstanding)in the legal academy.

    Again, just my gut and my observation of journals both within my labor and employment law field and outside (I use both the SmartClip service and follow the W&L Journal Listing RSS Feed to keep up on recent publications in most of the top journals).

  4. Matthew Reid Krell says:

    That graphic is utterly contextless. What does it mean?

  5. dave hoffman says:

    Sorry Matthew. It’s the main graphic from a recent paper that I blogged about (along with others):

    Reproduction of Hierarchy? A Social Network Analysis of the American Law Professoriate, by Katz et al.

    The graphic and the figure show that very few schools produce almost all american legal academics.