Fun With Statistics

10Apr09

HeinOnline is a legal database that among other things has an extensive database of court opinions and legal journal articles. Recently thay began posting citation analysis to the articles and opinions in their database. They also have a blog in which they occasionally publish interesting findings from their collection.

For instance: What is the most cited article in their database? If you guessed Brandeis’ “Right to Privacy,” you’d be right. It was cited (as of this writing) by 2,902 other law journal articles. (BTW, the second most cited article is “The Path of the Law” by Brandeis’ bud, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)

Who is the most cited author in the database? If you guessed Brandeis, you’d be wrong this time. It’s Richard Posner, whose 251 articles have garnered 12,586 citations.  Interestingly, HeinOnline lists 9 articles by Brandeis for a total of 2,928 citations, which means that his other 8 articles have only garnered 26 citations between them. It’s also interesting to note that “Right to Privacy” by itself has garnered almost one-sixth the number of the citations to all of Posner’s articles. But then, Brandeis did have a 100 years head start, so it’s probably better not to read too much into that.

What is the most cited Supreme Court case (from articles, not other cases)? Brown v. Board of Education (16,868 cites), followed closely by Roe v. Wade (15,991 cites). Brandeis makes an appearance in the top 10 cases with Erie Raliroad Co. v. Tompkins, while Olmstead is the 25th most cited case. Plessy v. Ferguson is the 12th most cited case, which I would imagine is due in no small part by Harlan’s dissent.

All of this is nice fun for legal historians and trivia buffs, but there is a practical use for this data as well. All law professors are familiar with the annual process of proving their worth to the Dean and justifying a raise. HeinOnline now makes that a lot easier. Simply do an author search under your own name and pull up a list of all of your articles. Under the citation for each article will be a line listing how many times that article has been cited. (You can even click on the line to see what those articles are.) If that doesn’t prove how vital your research is, I don’t know what will.

A couple caveats. HeinOnline has licensing agreements with most law reviews, but I don’t think they have them all. Obviously, that will affect the accuracy of the count of citations. There can also be some lag time between an issue’s publication and its inclusion in HeinOnline. Again with the accuracy… Still, no method of looking citing articles is going to be 100% accurate, and I can’t think of an easier way of doing it.

HeinOnline is a well known database, and I would imagine that most, if not all, academic law libraries have subscriptions to it. If you don’t know how to access it, talk to your nearest librarian. The full lists of most cited authors, articles and cases are published on their blog, which is available to everyone and can be found here.

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