Thursday, July 5, 2012


Fred Shapiro, Associate Librarian,
Yale Law Library
Fred Shapiro and Michelle Pearse recently collaborated to update Shapiro’s prior work examining the most cited law review articles of all time. Their article (110 Mich. L. Rev. 1483) presents an interesting question of both legal scholarship and legal research. Shapiro notes that readers of his previous two articles on the same subject, released in 1985 and 1996, had jokingly developed a name for this field of study: citology. 

The top ten most-cited law review articles, as determined by Shapiro are:
  1. R.H. Coase, The Problem of Social Cost, 3 J.L. & Econ. 1 (1960).
  2. Samuel D. Warren & Louis D. Brandeis, The Right to Privacy, 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193 (1890).
  3. O.W. Holmes, The Path of the Law, 10 Harv. L. Rev. 457 (1897).
  4. Gerald Gunther, The Supreme Court, 1971 Term—Foreword: In Search of Evolving Doctrine on a Changing Court: A Model for a Newer Equal Protection, 86 Harv. L. Rev. 1 (1972).
  5. Herbert Wechsler, Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law, 73 Harv. L. Rev. 1 (1959).
  6. Guido Calabresi & A. Douglas Melamed, Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Inalienability: One View of the Cathedral, 85 Harv. L. Rev. 1089 (1972).
  7. Charles A. Reich, The New Property, 73 Yale L.J . 733 (1964).
  8. Charles R. Lawrence III, The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious Racism, 39 Stan. L. Rev. 317 (1987).
  9. William J. Brennan, Jr., State Constitutions and the Protection of Individual Rights, 90 Harv. L. Rev. 489 (1977).
  10. Robert H. Bork, Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems, 47 Ind. L.J. 1 (1971).
There are some heavy-hitters in legal scholarship on this list, including four former Supreme Court justices and at least one author who was the victim of Borking.

Since the second iteration of Shapiro’s study, new legal research resources have made tracking the most cited articles much easier. In particular, HeinOnline has an immense collection of law journals, titled the Law Journal Library, that enables users to sort all articles in the database by number of citations to them, further sortable by author, article, and journal. While Shapiro incorporated citations in the Social Sciences Index in his study, thus allowing R. Coase’s The Problem of Social Cost to rise to the top of the most-cited list, HeinOnline itself provides an easy way to visualize citations from strictly legal journals.  

HeinOnline is, of course, accessible from the list of databases on the right side of the Law Library’s homepage. Browsing by “Most-Cited,” you can see that Cass Sunstein, whom Shapiro calls a “citation superstar,” leads the pack among most-cited authors of law review articles, and that articles in the Harvard Law Review have been cited the most number of times. From this list, a researcher can find and access all the articles that cite these famous pieces of legal scholarship, as well as search among the most-cited articles for particular keywords or dates. The cool thing about HeinOnline’s list is that it is updated every month, allowing you to keep current on all your citological needs!

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