To rank well in most legal scholarship ranking systems which count “all-time citations,” scholars must have thirty to forty years of nearly continuous scholarly output. This leads to an undercounting of women and other time-limited groups and prevents existing rankings from surfacing the current top scholars according to Rob Willey, Melanie Knapp, and Ashley Matthews from George Mason University Law Library.
They have designed A New Inclusive Scholar Rank that includes more women as well as newer scholars and non-traditional scholars, such as practitioners. This rank is run by counting citations to law journal articles in the HeinOnline Law Journal Library by limiting to articles written in a recent, three-year period of time.
Also unlike many other legal scholarship ranking systems, their ranking focuses on individual legal scholars rather than collective faculty from select schools, opening inclusion to anyone anywhere who is publishing in a U.S. law journal.
The authors acknowledge that, like other rankings, theirs is not perfect as the HeinOnline law journal data omits scholars publishing books or articles in non-law journals.
I found the ranking to be transparent, thoughtful, and fair. As I’ve stated in my own scholarship and prior blog posts, I have a problem with rankings that use data that can’t possibly measure what they claim to be ranking. That was my big concern with the proposed US News scholarly impact rankings’ use of HeinOnline law reviews.
I don’t have that concern with this ranking because the authors are not ranking school against school while minimizing that they are using just a subset of the full range of faculty scholarship. Rather, Willey, Knapp, and Matthews make clear that they are ranking individual faculty members who are writing about the law in law journals. They acknowledge their limitations and suggest that this ranking is not meant to replace but to supplement to other rankings.
The authors make clear that they’re only looking at recent scholarship and have valid reasons for doing so, namely to increase inclusion. I found it quite interesting that they found no correlation between their ranking of recent scholarship and the H index and Hein’s Scholar rank. That demonstrates that a scholar’s impact fluctuates over time which can be heartening to newer authors and those with fewer articles over the course of their careers. As they note, can inspire hope in scholars who are new on the scene, have just one incredibly impactful recent article, or who may have breaks throughout their career.
I also appreciated the reinforcement of their earlier advice on using short titles and writing long articles. And that the subjects authors wrote about made a difference in citation numbers, both traditional heavily cited topics and hot topics.
I applaud Willey, Knapp, and Matthews for being upfront about what their ranking is and is not attempting to measure. They’ve offered a new and worthy type of ranking that adds to the overall landscape of scholarly impact for law faculty.