University of Arkansas property law professor, Steve Clowney (@steveclowney), who teaches property law has put together a list of the most “cited” property law professors in the country over the last five years.

Although Clowney does not make clear the purpose of his list, it appears to being taken as recognition of the top scholars.

Law schools, including Notre Dame, are sending out press announcements of the prowess of the scholarship being conducted by their law professors on the list.

The list was arrived at by running searches across Westlaw for the number of times that a professor’s law journal articles had been cited in other law journals.

Is such a list an accurate assessment of a law professor’s influence and level of scholarship today?

What about their blogging? How often do they blog (evidence of their research)? How often do they cite other blogs (demonstrates their network)? How often are their blogs cited on other blogs and shared on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook?

How does a professor use other social networks for collaboration, learning and networking? Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Law journals can be very insular and slow moving when it comes to legal scholarship. Most are not read by anyone other than fellow academics. This leaves the academics penning journal articles out of the legal discussion being driven by blogs published by practicing lawyers, law students, other law professors and media commentators.

At a time when law schools are scrambling to make themselves relevant and prepare their grads for the world ahead, why would law schools reward their law professors for nor engaging with the real world?

Law journals are also very slow in developing and advancing legal scholarship. With the advent of the Internet, and with it blogs and social media, thought leadership moves quickly. Professionals in other arenas are learning and advancing knowledge at speeds far greater than ever before.

Courts are citing blogs and many law journals written by law professors are citing blogs. One law professor tells me off the record that they are looked at as a leading scholar in their field, in substantial part because traditional law review articles are citing their blog, boosting their citation count compared to many of their peers.

It makes little sense to say that professors get hired, promoted and make tenure based on traditional legal research so only law reviews and law journals must be how scholarship is measured. That’s a hamster wheel and sounds similar to what newspaper publishers argued.

Including blogging as a measure of scholorship drives needed change. The vast majority of law professors and law firm administrators have no idea of what blogging and the use of social networks really mean when it comes to professional development and the advancement of the law. Make blogging and social networking a measure of one’s scholarship and you’ll see a move towards the future.

It seems to me the measure of legal scholarship today would include a lot more than law journal and law review articles.

Am I missing something?

  • Kevin – Like with all ranking systems, there are flaws and then there are flaws. It has become a tradition to rank professors based on citations. There are several indices prepared based on the citation approach, and some others (like SSRN) that use the view approach. As Clowney notes about his ranking, one can criticize all of these efforts. I’m not sure I would include blog postings in one of these lists, because I think it is a bit of an apples and oranges mix. Blog posts are not the same as law review articles. Now, I do think you could go another direction that would be interesting. As Klout and Kred have tried to do, I think you could try to construct an influence ranking for law school professors. That ranking would consider law review citations, but would do so in a more nuanced way and would add other data. A case cite is not the same as another law review cite. We could add in social media likes and shares (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). We also could look at traditional media mentions. To have clout in the academic world, write and be cited. But, to have clout in the real world, you need to do something else. The challenging part (separate from assembling the data) would be deciding how to weight each factor.

    • I am not really criticizing the effort per se, I am just saying there appears to be a vacuum in ignoring the reality of where we are today in the advancement of knowledge.
      Tradition is not a reason to look at things the way they have been versus they way that they could be done. It’s not up to anyone other than academics themselves to come up with a better way to measure influence.
      If it were up to me I’d measure scholarship and influence how we all do already subjectively. How informed is the person? How knowledgeable are they? How networked are they (staying up to speed with the outside world)? Do they stay up to speed with the latest developments?
      Look at Professors Dennis Crouch and Eric Goldman, for example. Both got where they are because they were viewed as knowledgeable and influential professors. Both did it through blogging. No score was needed.
      The academics need to get themselves using the latest publishing and communication networks. They’ve been adopted elsewhere because they advance learning and networks. Falling back on tradition is a safety net for those who are afraid to adopt to change.

      • I go back to mixing apples and oranges. A 2000 word blog post is not the same as a 40 page law review article. You may criticize the latter for many reasons, but comparing them as “scholarship” is difficult. Your argument is that claiming a professor is influential because he or she wrote that law review article and other professors cited it, is misleading. Professors can have far more influence through posting than law review writing. Fair enough, but that is a different measure. Let’s create one that factors in posts, etc. and measure “LegalCred.” I have not problem with doing so, but that isn’t what the existing measures are trying to do, which is why adding blog posts to them would not add value. Overall, I do think we need better measures for lawyers, professors, etc., but we need to be clear about what we are measuring and how the factors we pick are relevant to that measure. We have enough garbage metrics in the legal profession already.

        • No question a 40 page law review article and a blog post are different. I won’t get into which are more valuable to the law. Also agree we have far too many garbage metrics in the legal profession.
          The problem I saw was using Clowney’s list, which is what it is in listing the most cited in law journals, as a measure of legal scholarship today with including other methods of writing and social networking.
          Look at what the Dean at Notre Dame had to say about their professors in the the list. “Our law faculty produces top-rate scholarship that impacts not only other academics, but also the real world.” But yet when I spoke with Notre Dame folks earlier this year they were not aware of any professor blogging or using social media for advancing legal discussion or professional development.
          I am not criticizing the list itself, it’s how it’s how the list is being interpreted as scholarship. Such scholarship heavily influencing hires and marketing of the school.

          • Okay, think of it this way. Law professors get hired, promoted, make tenure, get grants, get chairs, get academic positions, get wooed to better schools, and get basically all other rewards based on traditional scholarship. Spending time on anything else is, to a certain extent, counter-productive. If you want to change the system, then you have to go to the reward structure (just as you have to do with law firms). And, just as with law firms, tenured professors believe in the system that got them to where they are today (psychological investment included). It is very hard to serve two bosses, so most people (logically) choose the one that pays them and gets them to where they want to go. The reward system is built into the academic structure, so change means getting the academic system to value different forms of scholarship. I suspect that most professors who blog have already reached tenure and other goals, and do so because they enjoy it and the academic “penalty” of doing so has reached the point where it is relatively low. I’m sure there are exceptions (rebels), but I’m also sure that compared to the population of professors, they form a small minority.

          • I guess that’s my point. Law schools and their legal scholarship may be like a hamster on a wheel. We Have always done it this way and we’ll continue to do it this way because it has always worked for us. And we’ll do it this way whether it makes sense or not. Almost sounds like newspaper and book publishers.

            Rather than living in the bizarro world, why not recognize that scholarship, defined as academic study or achievement and learning of a high level, requires using new modes of learning, collaboration and communication.

            Thanks for this discussion, by the way.

          • We do need change, but it is easy to oversimplify-for law firms and law schools. The better approach is a mix. But just like clients aren’t forcing law firm change no one is forcing law school change. We often confuse the medium with the content. Blog or law review, more practice oriented scholarship would help. If readers are more comfortable with the scholarship in blog form, fine, and if they want long form, fine. I think right now content is more significant than the tool.

          • The medium is important. Imagine if my CTO contributed to journals/reviews, got his info/learning from journals and reviews and grew his network, in part, through journals and reviews. He’d be light years behind and so would knowledge advance in technology of everyone did that. I don’t see this as any different.

            A law professor who does not blog and use social networks for learning, collaboration and networking is behind those who do. They just feel good about it as leadership thinks the status quo is okay.

          • I’m not aware of any data that supports that theory. Again, different tools serve different purposes and content is more important. Putting junk on a blog doesn’t help someone any more than publishing it elsewhere. Social media helps distribute ideas, but if you have bad ideas social media won’t fix them.

          • Common sense over data on this one, Ken.

          • I’m afraid common sense doesn’t support using more tools to spread gibberish more widely.

          • That may the problem. We’re not talking gibberish and many law schools look at blogs and social media as mere gibberish.

        • Jason Shinn

          When it comes to influencing through “credible” legal scholarship, the medium isn’t more important than the audience. What I mean by this is that it is worth noting that judicial research is often conducted by judicial clerks or staff attorneys who are equally comfortable turning to Google as preliminary research. In separate instances, I’ve had a judge and a research attorney ask about a legal issue I blogged about and how that issue played out or how it applied to my case. Similarly, I will regularly send a client/prospect a link to an article I blogged about if it is on point to a discussion/question, etc. I wouldn’t do that with a 40 page law review article. And this includes clients/prospects who are executives or business owners, i.e., “sophisticated” and intelligent legal consumers (whatever that means). I have never had a client/prospect overlook or disregard the value of the content in order to question the medium. I wrote a law review style article for a Michigan Bar Business journal earlier in my career and in law school, I helped edit and research a law review article one of my professors published. Significant time and effort went into both. Yet the number of people who saw both is probably only a fraction of those who have read any single post on my blog.

  • Nicole Abboud

    Nope. You’re not missing anything. I think you’re right on with your suggestion that blogging (and other content creation, I might add) needs to be taken into account when considering recognition and influence of law scholars. Even though thought leadership moves quickly, the legal profession doesn’t move as quickly in recognizing what is (or who is) influential these days. I would say legal bloggers are just as, if not more, influential than law review authors based on the level of engagement of their readers.

    • Thanks for the comment Nicole. I guess I’d just like to see blogging and social networking recognized as a measure of legal scholarship so that law professors, law students and law school administrators feel empowered and encouraged to blog/use social networks. Blogs and social networks move information and knowledge today. Not using these mediums is going to hold the law and their professionals back.