Determinants of Citations to Articles in Elite Law Reviews

Posted: 22 Apr 1999

See all articles by Ian Ayres

Ian Ayres

Yale University - Yale Law School; Yale University - Yale School of Management

Fredrick E. Vars

University of Alabama - School of Law

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Studies of citations to law review articles tend to suffer from two related shortcomings: (1) a failure to adjust raw citation counts for opportunities to be cited; and (2) an exclusive focus on the most-cited articles. This article addresses both of these shortcomings for pieces published from 1980 to 1995 in Harvard Law Review, Stanford Law Review, and The Yale Law Journal.

First, we rank articles by citations in other law reviews using regression analysis to correct for time since publication, journal, and subject area. Next, we examine the flow of citations over time and the determinants of citations more generally. To summarize a few of our results: citations per year peak at four years after publication and an article receives half of its expected total life-time citations after 4.6 years; appearing first in an issue is a significant advantage; international law articles receive fewer citations; jurisprudence articles are cited more often; articles by young, female, or minority authors are more heavily cited. Articles with shorter titles, fewer footnotes per page, and without equations have significantly more citations than other articles. Total citations generally increase with an article's length, but citations per published page peak at 53 pages.

Finally, we note a pervasive identification problem in inferring a cause for these our results. Among the possible explanations for observing a positive correlation between a characteristic and citations are: higher quality for this type of article, editorial bias against this type of article (that is, a higher quality cut-off for acceptance), or bias in favor of citation by citing authors. Given this problem (and others), we counsel caution in ascribing meaning to our results.

JEL Classification: K00, C21, C23, C25

Suggested Citation

Ayres, Ian and Vars, Fredrick E., Determinants of Citations to Articles in Elite Law Reviews. Journal of Legal Studies, 1999. Available at SSRN:

Ian Ayres (Contact Author)

Yale University - Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-7101 (Phone)
203-432-2592 (Fax)

Yale University - Yale School of Management

135 Prospect Street
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States

Fredrick E. Vars

University of Alabama - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 870382
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States

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