What if the Volokh Conspiracy Bloggers Were a Law School Faculty? [Updated with a methodological correction]

The Volokh Law School "faculty" would outscore all but one other law school in the most recent Leiter ranking of law schools by scholarly impact.


The latest Brian Leiter law faculty "scholarly impact" ranking based on law journal citation counts of each school's top ten tenured faculty is now out. This ranking was first developed by University of Chicago law professor Brian Leither, but is now conducted by Prof. Gregory Sisk and two of his colleagues at the University of St. Thomas Law School (here is their complete paper). Yale Law School came out on top with a mean of 540 citations for its tenured profs in the years covered by the study (2013-17) and a median of 394. But what if the the Volokh Conspiracy bloggers were a law faculty? If so, we would outperform all the schools on the list, except for Yale. The Sisk article lists the top 10 for each of the schools it considers. Here are the scores for the top 10 regular VC contributors who are tenured law professors themselves (I apologize if I have inadvertently missed someone).

Orin Kerr: 1316
Eugene Volokh: 1280
Randy Barnett: 1064
Jonathan H. Adler: 637
Ilya Somin: 595
David Bernstein: 480
Todd Zywicki: 387
Will Baude: 299
Paul Cassell: 282
David Post: 250

While I have copied the Leiter-Sisk methodology as precisely as possible, there are likely some minor errors in these figures. And they probably include a few 2017 cites that may not have been in the database yet when Prof. Sisk and his coauthors conducted their citation counts in May of this year. Still, the VC's score (counting both the people listed above and several other regular VC contributors who are tenured law professors) comes out to a mean of 500 and a median of 299. Our combined score, using the Leiter scale (doubling the mean and adding the median), would be 1299. That tops all schools on the list, except for Yale. Harvard is currently second on the list with a score of 1252. And that does not even factor in such points as that several of us are much younger than the top ten profs at Yale and other such schools, so have not had as much time to accumulate cite-producing articles and books.

Also, only one of us (Baude) is at a school ranked in the top ten in the more conventional US News ranking, and there is probably some school-prestige bias in citations. George Mason University's law faculty, home to several of the VC bloggers (including myself) is ranked no. 41 in US News, but a much higher no. 19 in the Leiter scholarly impact ranking.

With these ten people, plus the rest of the VC crew, we can cover nearly all major law school classes. The putative Volokh Law School faculty has major publications/teaching experience in constitutional law, property, contracts, torts, legislation, law and economics, antidiscrimination law, bankruptcy, environmental law, international law, intellectual property, cyberlaw, criminal law, speech, law and religion, and much else. We have also written about many other less conventional subjects, including piracy, slippery slopes, and the politics of Star Wars! If necessary, we can hire additional faculty/conspirators to fill any pesky gaps in the curriculum. And if you think the Volokh Law School would lack intellectual diversity by virtue of being too "right-wing," I will point out that Hillary Clinton got virtually the same percentage of the known VC vote (45%) as the national popular vote (48%), and Trump got a lot less VC support (9%) than popular support (46%).

All we need to establish one of the most productive law school faculties in the land is an elite university that does not yet have a law school and can endow the Volokh Law School (or perhaps it should be called the Conspiracy Law School), and appoint Senior Conspirator Eugene Volokh as the first dean. Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, Rice, etc., this is a deal you can't pass up!

Sadly, there probably will never be a Volokh Law School. But it's an interesting thought experiment nonetheless!

Note: Co-blogger David Bernstein first looked at the VC bloggers as a possible law faculty in a 2008 post, using the standards of an earlier version of the Leiter study. His post gave me the idea for this one.

UPDATE: VC blogger and University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell points out that he scores a 282 on the Leiter-Sisk scale, and therefore would be in our top ten. I am sorry to have overlooked him, and have now corrected that mistake.

UPDATE #2: In the initial version of this post, I misunderstood the Leiter-Sisk ranking as being based on the mean and median of the top 10 tenured faculty at the school. It is in fact based on the mean and median of all tenured professors. I have duly corrected the VC score to include all tenured professors who, over the last couple years, have contributed at least somewhat regularly to the blog (a total of fifteen people, by my count). This correction would make the hypothetical VC Law School "only" the second-most impactful in the US, rather than the first. I apologize for my mistake.

NEXT: UCLA Law #11 in Scholarly Impact Rankings

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  1. I fear that EV’s productivity might decrease if he were to become a dean.

    1. Are Deans Wormer or Martin available?

    2. Yes, it would: If I were to become a dean, I would commit suicide, and would be unable to continue writing.

      1. /s Really? Suicide is your innate response to acclaim and recognition? Man, I’m glad you didn’t experience anything really bad, like living in the Soviet Union. s/
        But, seriously, as someone who would not be in law school if I hadn’t stumbled upon a balanced article about Justice Thomas’ opinion authorship rate written by one Evgeniy Volokh, I do hope you someday consider a move into a position where you can help shape even more minds.

        1. I wouldn’t exactly call being a dean acclaim and recognition. The superstars in academia usually don’t become deans. I mean it’s an important job that goes to a senior faculty member and carries respect/authority but it’s kinda orthogonal to normal academic status. At least in my limited experience but I’m sure it varies by department.

      2. IIUC you already are the “nominal dean” of the VC now and have been for quite a few years. Who says you have to follow the same road as other law schools with the proposed VC SoL?

  2. Very impressive.

    I understand that digital law schools are frowned on – got to have the residential campus experience! – otherwise I’d suggest you create an online school.

  3. Last time I remember you had a list up of VC contributors on the sideboard it was substantially longer. Where is Sasha Volokh and others?

    I mean I suppose being prolific at VC posts correlates with being prolific at law articles (most of you post about your academic interests) so if you’re just counting the people who write the most it’s not that surprising.

    1. The measure uses the top ten.

  4. What more proof do you need that the End of Days is here?

  5. What percentage of VC authors’ citations are related to the blog? (I wager to say many of your articles started as blog posts or were fleshed out on here.) If it’s a majority, we may be looking at a shift away from long, dense law review articles and toward more narrowly tailored subjects.

  6. Haven’t had time to study the underlying report, but I doubt that the results are adjusted by size of school — number of tenured faculty.

    1. If you assume citation count follows a normal distribution, then choosing the top ten of larger faculties will trend higher. However, prestige is probably a greater factor; the mean and median
      of a normal distribution should be fairly tightly constrained after a certain number of faculty if nothing else were a factor.

  7. Go VC!

    Now, what would happen to those other schools, if they lost their VC contributors?

  8. How would the rankings change if you only counted citations in court decisions? I understand that professors Kerr and Baude are doing quite well at least recently in that regard, and I know Volokh has been cited for a while. That knowledge only comes from a couple of years of Conspiracy readership, so it’s probably deeper than that.

    1. That would never work. That would require scholarship that actually had an impact on the law. As opposed to academic masterbation.

  9. You’d never get ABA accreditation. Where’s your Dean of Diversity and Inclusivity? Where’s your Title IX administration? Where’s your Department of Constitutional Distortion, Emanations, and Penumbrae?

    1. What do you mean no Title IX advisor? They have Gail Heriot who sits on the Commission of Civil Rights!

  10. Where, oh where, is Artie when you really need him?

    1. Probably indulging in something stronger than a 9% solution.

    2. Artie (Ray Lee Wayne Jim-Bob Kirkland) was banned by Prof. Volokh for making fun of conservatives.

  11. I think it’s obvious that GMU would be #1 if it weren’t for all the liberal bias in the legal academy. All those liberal scholars only citing their liberal colleagues. To ensure that the marketplace of ideas is maintained, scholars should have to cite a conservative/libertarian author for every citation to a liberal author. Gotta stamp out that bias!

    On another note, a more granular examination of the citation data would be interesting to look at. The questions I would have, which are the same I’ve looked at with social science journals, is self-citation (an author citing his previous work) and any clustering of authors that are citing each other more than would be predicted based off of averages.

  12. I propose a terminology change, from “Scholarly Impact” to “Amplification Effect,” in order to better capture the nature of much-cited legal scholarship: amplifying the noise in the legal scholarship echo chamber.

    As wcunning suggested, let’s see real Scholarly Impact data: citations in court opinions (with a breakdown of citation by majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions).

  13. Obviously these fifth-tier bloggers would form a seventh-tier law school, catering exclusively to the backwards, uneducated, intolerant, unhygenic goobers that form the core of the conservative coalition, standing against modernity, science, reason, and progress. Fortunately, the liberal-libertarian alliance will continue to shove progress and reason down their throats, no matter how much they whine. Open up, goobers, before your betters in the liberal-libertarian alliance decide to turn it sideways or administer it in suppository form.

    *shits pants*

    1. You seem to enjoy the privilege of whitewashing that fence as much as Tom’s pals did.

      You must be just as smart as they were.

  14. So does the citation count then include every time the person’s name is included in a citation, except for the acknowledgements? If I search Lexis law reviews for “Ilya Somin” with the dates 1/1/2013 to 12/31/2017 the total results are 592. This does not exclude references to the author or acknowledgements though. But, does it count every time Somin cites himself in a paper, including cites to his blog posts, as opposed to law reviews?

    For example, one of the results in the search is “Obama’s Constitutional Legacy” published in Drake Law Review (2017) and written by Somin. The article contains 67 footnotes. Within those footnotes I count 23 self-citations, that is, Somin citing Somin. 14 of those citations to are to Volokh Conspiracy blog posts, 2 are to USA Today articles, 1 is from a Forbes magazine article, 1 from Stan. U. Press Blog, 1 to Somin’s testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary. That is, of the 23 self-citations, 18 appear to be to pieces from popular media outlets as opposed to university publications.

    This is just one example, but if there is a trend in self-citing one’s blog posts and popular media articles, then the methodology may need to be rethought as it seems to weigh all citations equally (whether self-citations or cites to non-university publications). Maybe that’s not an issue, maybe it is; that would be the reflective question to examine.

    1. Being cited more than once in an article still counts as only one citation in the Leiter-Sisk system. Self-citations do count. But it’s a common practice in academia, and you can’t get more than one such to count for every article you wrote where you cite yourself (e.g. – if you cite yourself 50 times in one article, that still only counts as one. Ditto if someone else cites you 50 times in their article). As for the Drake Law Review article, it was a short symposium piece, and an adaptation/expansion of a popular media article. Thus not typical of the dozens of academic articles and books I have written.

  15. Oh, how quaint. Law professors who think their scholarly impact matters, masturbating over citation statistics.

    I’ve been in private practice ever since graduating law school. I would love there to be some kind of intellectual community spanning legal academia and private practice. But do you have any idea what it’s like to read “legal scholarship,” when you’re dealing with an obscure question that a client is actually dealing with? It’s all useless, obvious, and trivial. If I can find anyone writing in my area, 90% of what they’ve written simply repeats in slightly more rigorous form what the bar takes for granted, and the remaining 10% are silly errors, misunderstandings, or speculations that no top-notch practitioner would make.

    And Ilya, if your academic writing is anything like your blogging, you’d really be one of the worst. You seem to have a handful of pet theories and every new piece is just a bunch of copypasta to shoehorn something topical into your pet theories. Never mind that you don’t seem to focus on any area that would be relevant to a commercial litigant.

  16. Law schools are usually units within a university, and do not have their own athletic teams. Sad.
    It would be interesting to speculate in what sport would the Volokh Law School field an athletic team, what would be the team name, mascot, and war cry or motto, and the cheerleaders’ uniforms, cheers, and routines.

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