Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Much Ado About... Law Review Rankings?

Law journal practices wasn't something I expected to blog about this soon, but it seems that law review citation rankings are now a hot topic in the legal blogosphere. See here, here, here, and here.

I must say I find this focus on citation counts a bit bizarre. As a law journal board member, I must say that raising our citation count has never been a priority--in fact I don't think the word "citation" has ever been mentioned at any board meeting I've ever attended. But some other law journals do care, with a few even making citation maximization their number one priority. As an author who has gone through the law journal submissions cycle five times now, I also can't say I ever put any stock in citation rankings.

Am I missing some obvious benefit to placing my articles in the most cited journals I can get an acceptance from? Is my journal missing some obvious benefit to accepting the articles that are most likely to receive many citations, rather than taking a more holistic approach? My instinct tells me that the answer is no to both of these questions, but I would appreciate any comments on this issue.

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Blogger Luis Villa said...

Why do you write? I guess I'd assume that getting read is a huge part of the reason for writing, so it is hard for me to see any criteria more important than citation counts for picking what journal to publish your own piece in. (One might write for the sheer joy of writing, but once you'd chosen to publish the writing, getting read would be the primary goal, I'd think.)

What one chooses to publish is a different story. Two questions seem relevant: (1) why do you publish? I would not want to join a journal whose mission was to publish something no one read, but I realize that may not be universal- there may be publishing for the sake of knowledge creation, as there is writing for the sake of writing. (2) Why is the article not likely to get cited? Is it just that your field is not highly read? You need topical balance in an issue? Is it unreadable? Too esoteric? It seems like different answers to this would yield different outcomes.

That said, once you publish an article, no matter why you chose it, I'd think the journal has an obligation to the writer to work to make sure the work is very available and citable- publish it on the web, make the web site good and searchable, seek cross-publication opportunities, etc.

11/21/2006 2:50 PM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

But is citation count a good measure of whether a journal is actually read? I think not. The # of times an article has been read and the # of times an article has been cited are completely different measures. Might they be correlated in some way? Perhaps, but I don't think the correlation would necessarily be that strong.

People read articles, not journals. Virtually no one actually reads the print version of a journal (with some exceptions, like the Harvard Law Review). My impression is that most people seek out articles, usually by doing Westlaw/Lexis searches and then reading whatever comes up (and, of course, SSRN, though PR/marketing skills likely play a much larger role over there than they do with Westlaw/Lexis).

Now, in Westlaw/Lexis individuals will obviously know the author's identity and what journal published the piece, and may decide what articles to actually read based on that information. I can't control my identity / name recognition / etc., but I can control the journal I publish in. So, if I want to maximize readership, I have a strong incentive to publish in journals with good reputations that people would be more likely to read.

But are the journals with the best reputations the same as the journals with the best citation count? I say no. Several of the bloggers I linked to point out multiple instances where some of the most prestigious journals were ranked far below their perceived area of prestige in the citation count rankings. Given that so many people just don't know that the East Dakota Law Review is cited more frequently than the George Washington Law Review, it's not likely that I would gain any benefit from publishing in East Dakota LRev over GW LRev (and, in fact, I might lose readers, if a lot of readers skip over my piece because they believe East Dakota LRev isn't prestigious enough and therefore its articles aren't as good).

And this isn't even getting into the other problems with citation count as a measure, like the fact that the high citation count could be due to one or two articles getting a huge amount of attention, or that certain types of articles don't get as many citations as other types of articles for reasons that go way beyond quality (legal history is the classic example).

Of course, this raises another issue -- if you can't make placement decisions based on citation count, what can you look to? I honestly don't know the answer to that question. I've personally just looked to what other authors the journals have published, and also relied on word-of-mouth and anecdotes. Might not be the best way to do things, but I think relying on a subjective conception of prestige makes more sense than relying on an objective measure that seems clearly flawed.

11/21/2006 3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A "law journal board member"? More like xoxohth board member!

11/22/2006 2:17 AM  

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