Inoculating Law Schools Against Bad Metrics

K Bowrey (ed), Feminist Perspectives on Law, Law Schools and Law Reform: Intellectual Property & Beyond (Forthcoming)

22 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2021

See all articles by Kimberlee G. Weatherall

Kimberlee G. Weatherall

The University of Sydney Law School

Rebecca Giblin

University of Melbourne - Law School

Date Written: January 24, 2021


Law schools and legal scholars are not immune to the expanding use of quantitative metrics to assess the research of universities and of scholars working within universities. Metrics include grant and research income, the number of articles produced in journals on ranked lists, and citations (by scholars, and perhaps courts). The use of metrics also threatens to expand to measure other kinds of desired activity, with various metrics suggested to measure the impact of research beyond scholarly circles, and even more amorphous qualities such as leadership and mentoring.

Many working legal scholars are (understandably) unaware of the full range of ways in which metrics are calculated, and how they are used in universities and in research policy. What is more, despite a large and growing research policy literature and perhaps an instinct that metrics are inherently flawed as a means to recognise research 'performance', few researchers are aware of the full scope of known and proven weaknesses and biases in research metrics.

In this contribution to a forthcoming book, we describe the use of metrics in university and research and higher education policy (with a focus on Australia). We review the literature on the many flaws and biases inherent in metrics used, with a focus on legal scholarship.

Most importantly, we also want to promote a conversation about what it might look like for academic researchers working in law faculties or on legal issues to assess research contributions that promote the shared values of the legal academy. Our focus is on two areas of research assessment: research impact and the bucket of concepts variously described as mentorship, supervision, and/or leadership. We reframe the questions that researchers and assessors should ask: not, “what impact has this research had”, but “what have you done about your discovery?”; not “what is your evidence of research leadership”, but, “what have you done to enable the research and careers of others?”. We also present concrete suggestions for how working legal scholars and faculties can shift the focus of research assessment towards the values of the legal academy. The chapter incorporates some of our thinking on developing meaningful legal research careers - something that will hopefully be of interest to any working legal scholar.

Keywords: Legal Scholarship, Scholarly Impact, Law Schools, Law School Ranking, Research Assessment, Citations, Research Metrics

JEL Classification: I23

Suggested Citation

Weatherall, Kimberlee Gai and Giblin, Rebecca, Inoculating Law Schools Against Bad Metrics (January 24, 2021). K Bowrey (ed), Feminist Perspectives on Law, Law Schools and Law Reform: Intellectual Property & Beyond (Forthcoming), Available at SSRN: or

Kimberlee Gai Weatherall (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

Rebecca Giblin

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010

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