Friday, April 22, 2011
How Many Articles?
For the past couple of years, and for reasons akin to those that impelled the bear to go over the mountain, I’ve been working in fits and starts on compiling data on all the articles published in 37 general law reviews over a fifteen-year period. My ultimate goal, which I’ll see if I can reach by the time of my next blogging stint, is to try to get at some of the perennial questions such as how strong the correlation between author prestige and journal rank really is, whether some journals have been consistently more likely to publish authors from lower-ranked schools, whether the authors in these journals tend to be at an early stage in their careers, and so forth. For now what I’ve got to report is some basic information on the numbers of articles published, which I’ll set forth below.
First, some background. By “articles” I mean pieces traditionally designated as such in law journals, and more specifically those that got there through the traditional submission process (as opposed to being contributions to symposia, named lectures, and other contributions that are likely to have found their place through some other process). The 37 journals included represent one effort to capture something of a top-35 (but done, of course, after the fashion of the 11-team Big Ten). No doubt it’s not the same list as the 37 journals in your top 35, and I’m not even sure I’d identify the same list were I to do it today.
The time period involved starts in 1993 – for those journals that publish volumes tied to a calendar year, the time period was 1993-2007; for those that don’t, the period began with the 1993-94 volumes and ran through 2007-08. There’s undoubtedly an imprecision here that makes specific year-by-year comparisons unwise, but some general trends emerge nonetheless.
Over the entire 15-year period, this group of journals published 6248 articles, which works out to an average of 416.5 per year, or 11.26 per journal per year. That rate did not remain consistent over time. In the first year I looked at, the average journal published 9.6 articles. In the last year, the number was 13.7. (It’s worth noting, however, that both of those numbers are roughly .9 off from the adjacent years, so one or both may create the impression that the trend is greater than it really is.)
Here’s a graphic representation. The x-axis represents the year, and the y-axis the average number of articles per volume of each journal.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the beginning of the relatively steep increase near the end of the period roughly coincides with the top journals’ 2005 announcement of a preference for shorter articles.
And here, from highest to lowest, are the average annual numbers of articles published by each journal:
Wm & Mary 14
Ohio St. 13.6
Wash U 11.3
Indiana LJ 9.9
Wash & Lee 9.5
U Wash 7.3
These numbers are not at all stable on a volume-to-volume basis. The irregular occurrence of symposia seem to be the greatest cause of variance, but there are others. The highest number of articles in a single volume was 32 in Stanford during the last year examined; the lowest was 3 in USC during the first (both contributing, no doubt, to the effect noted above).
Posted by Chad Oldfather on April 22, 2011 at 07:12 PM | Permalink
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This is going to come across as mean or snarky, but I really don't mean it like that; I'm simply puzzled. It's just, why bother? What will this tell you about law, how will it help students and the legal profession?
Posted by: Ani | Apr 23, 2011 4:24:32 PM
Ani, yeah it does come across as mean and snarky. At a minimum, it helps students since some students will want to write law review articles, and knowing how many law review articles are being published lets you have a sense of how large this market for speech is.
I think implicit in your comment is an attitude that law review articles simply are irrelevant. And certainly their influence is kind of indirect. But I can equally say that about the work of a more conventional lawyer: why bother? Most of legal practice involves trying to get BigCo to pay money to MegaCorp. It would be a mistake to think that lawyers are nothing more than parasites on society because of this. It is no more fair to say the same of academics and their work.
Posted by: TJ | Apr 23, 2011 6:45:08 PM
Ani's questions are good ones. Also, what does playing tiddly-winks tell you about law, and how will it help students and the legal profession?
Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Apr 23, 2011 10:06:36 PM
TJ, I do think it's relevant, and not necessarily nasty, to ask why particular work is being done. And I would be very surprised if "how large this market for speech is" can be meaningfully derived from this study or that it will assist students that much.
That this question conveys an attitude that law review articles are irrelevant surprises me. Rather, I assume that writing articles, like teaching, is generally constructive, and look with suspicion on navel-gazing about the ephemera of writing and teaching. This kind of exercise seems not to recognize the distinction, at least not as you have justified it.
Posted by: Ani | Apr 23, 2011 11:21:44 PM
Ani, perhaps I was a little quick to pigeonhole, but if you concede that writing articles is generally constructive, then you must concede there is a certain information infrastructure that surrounds the process, and Chad is providing part of that infrastructure. If I am going to evaluate whether someone who places an article in the Harvard Law Review has done something significant--and most of the time I do not have time to read every article, so I need a proxy--then it helps to know whether the Harvard Law Review publishes nine articles or ninety. I can understand your distinction between productive activity and navel gazing, but it is not a sharp distinction, in the sense that occasional navel gazing can be productive. To the extent your question implied that the activity was totally worthless, I thought it was unfair. Now, has Chad spent a disproportionate amount of time on this project relative to its benefit? Perhaps. But that is a very different question, and really not for others to judge in my view.
Posted by: TJ | Apr 24, 2011 12:23:10 AM
For better or for worse, the articles accepted by the top journals often become the articles that have the most influence on legal academia. Articles that influence legal academia tend to have some influence on the lives of law students (who are taught by legal academics) and, at least to some extent, on the legal profession (to the extent academia is relevant to it). As a result, if you're interested in how legal scholarship influences the lives of law students and the legal profession -- or how it should or shouldn't -- you should be interested in how the top journals pick articles. Put another way, the study of the top journals and how and what they pick is a kind of study of part of the process by which scholarship is selected that tends to influence the rest of the legal profession. Or at least that's one way of thinking about it.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 24, 2011 12:27:39 AM
I tend to believe there is some rationality to the madness of the law review process. People can complain that the standards for publication in other fields are more objective, perhaps even more rigorous. But I can see how in biology, the game of education is for the future generation to catch up with what the current generation is doing first, and hopefully for the future generation to be inspired to go beyond the current. In law, the name of the game is for the current generation to influence - to reach the heart of - the future generation. Hence, law review articles need to frame issues palatable, relevant to the students.
Posted by: anxious | Apr 24, 2011 1:32:36 AM
Thanks, although I'm not sure why your comment was addressed to me. My point was about why the subject of law reviews is important, not what the articles in the law reviews should look like.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 24, 2011 1:44:30 AM
My complaint is both too narrow and too broad. I was focused on the number of articles question addressed in this post, and certainly can't exclude that some of the questions Professor Oldfather would address are interesting and valuable; in any case, I don't mean to be beating up on him in particular.
Let me put my broader concern bluntly. There is potential value in any subject under the sun; it's about opportunity cost and marginal value. I see law schools as the subject of increased scrutiny nowadays, in which critics test whether professors are paid too much to help produce lawyers who are not paid enough to make back their investment, and (once the loans are figured in) there is massive miscalculation of social investment. I dispute claims of 100K cost per article, claims that legal education is a Ponzi scheme, etc., and certainly resist the idea that research is irrelevant to teaching. But the more time is spent on research designed focused on the sociology of the legal academy, particularly on questions that are mainly of interest to other professors, in no small part because they want to know how to get tenure or get ahead of one another or measure one another's worth, the harder the defenses get; and the more blogging that gets done on these things, the harder it is to defend the proposition (which I believe) that professors actually work hard and deliver a lot of value for the money. It's as if we watched public school teachers take additional "in service" days that they proclaimed to be about lateral moves rather than doing grading or improving pedagogy; not useless, hardly, but neither are they Exhibit A for defenses of embattled education budgets.
I'm sure I am not seeing all the benefits of work like this. But at the same time, I don't think all projects are equal, and in my perfect world we would exercise self-restraint in using our enormous discretion over our research and writing agendas. This dyspeptic view is not, again, properly focused on this project alone, and I apologize if it comes across this way.
Posted by: Ani | Apr 24, 2011 11:12:30 AM
Thanks for the explanation. I think I understand your perspective, but I think I responded to it in my 12:27 comment: As I see it, the subject here is not just of interest to other professors.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 24, 2011 11:48:34 AM
Professor Kerr, thanks for the replies: I think they're responsive but not persuasive. My characterization was that this relates *primarily* to the professoriate; I think one can say that anything in the category relates to *some* degree to law students and the legal profession in which both faculty and students participate or will participate. So I am suggesting that we should be more demanding than that, or others will be.
Besides, I think we have to take into account that our perspective on whether things relevant to legal academics are likely to be relevant to everyone else is likely to be a bit skewed.
This is only part of the inquiry; quality control is at least as important.
Posted by: Ani | Apr 24, 2011 2:39:25 PM
Thanks to all for the discussion. I don’t find Ani’s questions all that off-putting, and I think the first sentence of the post suggests that I don’t present this believing it to be among the most significant things I have done with my time over the past couple years. A couple of quick thoughts in response. To the extent that the critique is directed at the specific content of the post (as one of Ani’s later comments suggests), I’ll agree that were answering the question “how many articles?” the entire goal of the endeavor, it would not have been worth undertaking. Having gathered the data on the way to answering the other questions, however, it didn’t take that much additional effort to plug some numbers into a spreadsheet, and it struck me as interesting enough to justify a blog post. In terms of the information’s usefulness, my sense is that it would be most useful to a set of law students, specifically those involved in the articles process. Law reviews tend to lack an institutional memory, and also aren’t likely to have much of a sense of what their counterparts at other schools are up to. I’m pretty sure the articles-editor version of me would have been interested to know where we stood in terms of the number of articles we published.
As for the suggestions that legal academics devote too much time to this sort of research, and that it makes it harder to justify our role, I largely disagree (as the fact that I undertook the project at all attests). I say “largely” because I think it would be a legitimate critique if I had decided to devote all of my attention to this type of project. But that’s not true of me, and I don’t think it’s true of many of the people who do this sort of work. (After all, if you’re not regularly writing and submitting other stuff to law reviews, you’re not likely to find the process interesting.) More broadly, I doubt that these sorts of “inside baseball” articles and blog posts are really that great a portion of the overall output of the legal academy. I suspect that they are the sorts of things that we all tend to notice even as we skim past the greater bulk of articles and posts on subjects that we’re not interested in, such that we might imagine there’s more of it than there really is. But I’ll leave that counting to someone else.
Posted by: Chad Oldfather | Apr 25, 2011 11:23:03 AM
Would you be willing to e-mail me a draft? I think I can significantly tighten your methodological concerns (i.e., the problem with your volume-counting). And I like navel-gazing.
Posted by: Matthew Reid Krell | Apr 25, 2011 4:33:31 PM
Great post and an interesting project. I have two friends who experimented using different letter heads to assess whether that would impact placement. One was visiting at a top ten school, while on faculty of a 60ish law school. As a visitor he had access to the letterhead. He sent the same article out both on the visiting school's and his permanent school's letterheads; the result was far better placement on the better letterhead. Even more telling is the second example. This other professor was at a bottom second or top third tier school and received an offer from a 30ish or 40ish school. He sent the article using the new letterhead and his old school's letterhead. The result? On his new schools letterhead (from the better school), he landed a 20ish or 25ish law review offer of publication; but on his old letterhead he received one offer from a very low ranked law review.
So, Chad, your study is important for assessing how often prestige, rather than merit, accounts for publications. From anecdotal evidence, I would assume that in most cases the better law reviews have more original works but that quite often good articles don't get in because the student editors don't recognize the name or disparage the quality of the law school.
Posted by: anon | Apr 26, 2011 10:12:35 AM
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