Legal Scholarship

2021 Study of Law Faculty Scholarly Impact Released

The latest edition of the Sisk, Catlin, Anderson, and Gunderson study of faculty scholarly impact is out. Download it while it's hot.


The 2021 edition of the "Sisk Study," aka "Scholarly Impact of Law School Faculties in 2021: Updating the Leiter Score Ranking for the Top Third," has just been posted on SSRN. It ranks the top third or so of law faculties based upon their scholarly impact, as measured by law review citations.

Brian Leiter has posted a list of the top-50 law schools, as ranked by this study. He will also follow up with individual professor rankings by subject area, as he has in the past.

There are a few changes to the study this year. Greater attention has been paid to the potential over- or under-counting of citations, as a result of false positives, multiple names, et als, and star-footnote acknowledgements.

The authors also report on the results of an experimental survey of U.S. News academic voters on which professors have the greatest academic impact: "Cass Sunstein, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Erwin Chemerinsky, and Angela Onwuachi-Willig hold the top four positions, with Mark Lemley, Catharine MacKinnnon, and Orin Kerr tied for the fifth position." Congrats to Orin!

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  1. Thank your for this great addition to the lawyer hierarchy arrest list.

    1. This is the scholarly impact study. Is there a judicial impact study?

      1. That’s what I was wondering. Is this just the typical academic circle-jerk, or does it have impact outside of academia? I know that in my thirty years as an appellate lawyer, law review articles pretty low on the list of useful resources. Things like Moore’s Federal Practice and Wright & Miller are great resources, and I feel like they carry some weight with judges (and their law clerks) as relatively trusted resources, but I can’t remember the last time I cited a law review article.

        1. Not even Orin Kerr’s seminal article “A Theory of Law”?

          1. I must admit that would have been helpful to respond to a reply brief in an appeal I worked on recently, but sadly, the rules do not permit responses to replies.

            (The reply said “Appellee cites no case that says the statute we’re relying on doesn’t apply to this situation.” The response to that would have been: “That’s because Appellant’s constructing of the statute is so obviously wrong that no court has been called upon to reject it yet. See Kerr, Orin, A Theory of Law, etc.”)

  2. Way to go Orin!

    He deserves a beer. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Loki13.

  3. South Texas College of Law again denied proper recognition by the woke liberal media smh

    1. These are garbage ratings as far as any real world measure is concerned. America has a failed elite that should be fired. That means, pull the privileges and exemptions of these univeristies. Stop all government subsidies, including local tax abatements. If they discriminate against any viewpoint in the slightest, pull their accreditations.

    2. Aunt Teefah College of Cogent Commentary doesn’t even make the bottom of the list.

      1. Well, there’s always next year…

  4. A whole lot of *70-year olds on that list.

  5. How does “scholarly impact” translate into some sort of benefit to the general public, or the legal profession?

    What does the number of cites tell us about that benefit?

    1. Life expectancy in the US was consistently going up until the most recent cycle, when it declined.

      In the most recent cycle of law school rankings, Chicago went up and Harvard went down. One concludes that Harvard was saving lives and Chicago kills people.

      Is that the kind of analysis you hoped to see?

      1. No. Though given some of the commenters here I wouldn’t have been surprised by it.

        I was hoping for some discussion as to the benefits of legal scholarship, other than to its authors.

        For example, Coase’s work made a huge contribution to policy discussions. To take another example, it may be that Orin’s work has helped judges make better decisions on some matters.

        On a different topic I wonder how much reciprocity there is in citing other authors, and how often an outstanding piece in a less well regarded publication gets unfairly ignored.

        1. IANAL so I’ll stay off that.

          On the reciprocity, personally I’ve never seen a quid-pro-quo arrangement although I’m sure it happens. How easy it is to get cited depends strongly on discipline. In chemistry and material science they seem to name-check everyone who’s worked on the same material in the past. In some other fields they only cite a paper if it’s the specific source for a specific claim.

          On the last part, maybe lawyers care about rankings when giving a cite. In engineering, if you got the equation from an obscure journal then you cite the obscure journal. As an author you gain prestige for getting published in a top journal, but not for merely citing one. In fact, citing obscure stuff is considered a sign that you’ve done careful background research rather than just grabbing the first ten hits on a Google buzzword search.

          1. “In fact, citing obscure stuff is considered a sign that you’ve done careful background research”

            I always delighted in citing the recherché

          2. It makes sense that the rules for academic engineering might be different from the rules for academic lawyering, although both share the common complaint that the scholars aren’t actually DOING anything, engineering has objective standards that can be readily observed. If you do the math wrong, the bridge falls down, or the facade of your building slides off. If you do lawyering wrong, very few people outside of the legal field will ever know. Most of the sciences have prestige problems… famous, prominent scientists get attention when they publish, and no-name scientists can have problems publishing, not because they aren’t doing good work, but because nobody knows who they are. As a result of that, some important scientific work doesn’t make an impact because it was published in a poorly-circulated journal, because it is delayed getting published, or because it gets indexed incorrectly. The prime case of this is Gregor Mendel, who discovered genetics about a half-century before the science world was ready to consider genetics important. Another notable case in the history of science is the physics journals ignoring Marie Skladowska until she got married and had her husband put his name on her work to get it published.
            Legal academics do research on topics that interest them, and occasionally real-world cases provide an opportunity to draw on that research. Mostly, though, legal academics do work to keep busy because teaching classes isn’t actually all that difficult to do and law schools pay the faculty fairly well for doing it, so they look for scholarship on top of (or, in some cases, instead of) actual ability to teach effectively.
            True story. You could set up a law school that would cost around half of what law schools now charge, and effectively teach the students everything they need to know about the law. Hint: look at how vocational schools teach paralegals. But then who would the TV stations talk to about law cases in the news?

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