Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Highest Priced Research Assistants in the World: Part 2

I recently blogged about the highest priced research assistants in the world -- law professors. At least that is what one would conclude if examining only the use of legal scholarship by courts. It is very rare that a court appears to care about a law professor's theory, reasoning, or analysis. Instead, they cherry pick articles for background facts that could have found for $15.00 an hour.

What about legal scholarship itself. Legal scholars do cite other scholars much more than courts do so maybe this means legal scholarship has a greater impact on other scholars than it does on courts. Whether one scholar's impact on another is important is a different question and open to debate. It depends, I would think, on whether the eventual work does some good for someone some where.

To examine not the quantitative impact in terms of numbers of citations but the qualitative impact, this time my coauthor and I looked at the way scholarship is actually used by other scholars in their work. Do scholars build on the ideas of others? Do the take several theories and combine them?

Unfortunately, this is another instance in which where citation counts may significantly overstate the benefits of legal scholarship. In examining the actual uses of legal scholarship, four categories emerged. First were gratuitous cites. Those were things like, "For more on BeBe Riboso see  . . . ." or  "See generally  . . . . " Typically the referenced materials are related to the author's work but they are not that different from Amazon telling you that since you read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold you might be interested in A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It is useful but is it worth the cost?

A second category is "hearsay." The author makes a statement and then cites another work because that is where the author "heard" the statement. When one looks at the cited source it usually says what the first author claimed but it too relies on hearsay. So Joe cites Jane and Jane cites Todd for an assertion that may or may be true unless it is obvious in which case it needed no citation. My favorite one in this category was something like, "The common law can be characterized by inconsistencies."

Often when you research the hearsay category you eventually come to someone who has done original research. Unfortunately it may come in the form of the ubiquitous See e.g. cite. The text may say, "The law as it pertains to liquidated damages is changing rapidly," and then three cases are cited for support.  I can remember writing my second law review article and coming to a full stop when I got ready to make a declarative statement like the one above. I asked an older colleague what to do. After all,  I had only read a few cases. He alerted me to the "See e.g." cite and just like that, in John Madden's terms, -- BOOM -- truth was created or at least its appearance which is good enough for legal research.

How about the last category? One scholar carefully reads the work of another and the takes those ideas and the ideas of other and his or her own, discusses them, and actually moves the reasoning to another and original level. In a survey of 100 cites -- all we have examined so far -- we could find it only twice.

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