After raising numerous concerns from the legal academic community, Brian Leiter reports that U.S. News has decided not to produce its own scholarly impact ranking. Chief among these concerns is that the exclusion of interdisciplinary scholarship and books in the ranking would create an incomplete representation of law faculty scholarly impact, skewing especially heavily against schools with strong interdisciplinary scholarship.
Other concerns included encouraging an overemphasis on scholarship to the detriment of instruction, undervaluing the academic contributions of junior and non-tenure-track scholars, scholars from underrepresented groups, and scholars who work in niche subject areas, as well as, the potential for gaming by law schools to improve their place in the rankings.
There have been numerous studies ranking law schools based on citation metrics, with the most well-known developed by University of Chicago’s Brian Leiter and continued by Gregory Sisk and his team at the University of St. Thomas (latest edition scheduled to be out soon), these rankings have largely been an academic exercise. However, U.S. News’ entrance into the field would have raised the stakes of such metrics substantially, amplifying the potentially detrimental impact for some schools.
Although I believe that U.S. News’ decision to step back from its scholarly impact ranking is a good thing, it certainly changes the strategies and workflows that libraries have spent the last few years developing to respond to the ranking. But librarians are no strangers to change, as we’ve demonstrated time and again, especially over the last year and a half.
What hasn’t changed is that law librarians still play a key role in maximizing the visibility of faculty scholarship, perhaps even more so now that our schools are free to tell their impact stories in their own way. As tracking and correcting citation metrics becomes less important, librarians can now direct our time and talents in other areas, such as making scholarship freely available and findable to readers online through SSRN and digital repositories, creating and curating author profiles on high impact databases besides Hein, improving SEO and discoverability of faculty works, and distributing scholarship to interested readers by email and social media. For practical tips on implementing these strategies for promoting scholarly visibility, see Appendix 2 of my article, “Representing Law Faculty Scholarly Impact: Strategies for Improving Citation Metrics Accuracy and Promoting Scholarly Visibility” (available now on SSRN, soon to appear in LRSQ).