Lance Fortnow over @ the Computational Complexity blog had a post about a couple of minor items which mentioned that Google Scholar Citations is now open to all. This got me thinking about the application of these types of services to the legal field. Google Scholar Citations and other similar services (see Fortnow’s examples at Microsoft, ACM, and DBLP) track all the papers of academic authors, allowing users to see how well-published and influential someone is by how often they are cited. I always thought the legal field could use something like this both on the academic side in law reviews and journals but also on the judge side by tracking court opinions. I have been planning a project along these lines to test several ideas and apply some existing ideas in the context of legal data.
One of the main reasons I think the legal field would find this useful, besides another area in which lawyers could compete with one another, is that the in law often undue influence is given to the prestige of certain schools or law reviews, rather than the actual power or impact of their scholarship. While someone can complain about too much attention being given to someone’s work just because it was in the Harvard Law Review, there isn’t much of an alternative to general prestige without better tools to measure legal scholarship.
On the judge side, there have been studies and tools focused on citation networks (Shepard’s is the obvious classic example but other modern efforts have used automated systems to parse data and automatically identify the landmark cases on a particular topic for instance) but these generally have not been author-focused (i.e., as a way to assess or rank the judge as a legal scholar). Of course, one of the big difficulties is that the underlying data would have to distinguish between judges listed in a case and the judge(s) who actually authored the opinion. Although even that is a fiction in that federal judges, at least, often don’t write their own opinions (most opinions are written by clerks).
Despite the difficulties, Fortnow’s post got me thinking about this issue again.