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The Most-Cited Articles from the Iowa Law Review

On the occasion of the centennial of the Iowa Law Review, I have compiled lists of that journal’s most-cited articles of all time.  Two different lists are presented here.  The first tabulates the 50 (actually 51 because of a tie) Iowa Law Review articles that are most cited by other legal periodical articles.  The second list sets forth the 10 (actually 11 because of a tie) articles most cited by federal and state judicial opinions.

I have discussed the rationale of legal citation-counting in a series of previous studies.1  Interested readers may consult those studies, but I will summarize here the basic rationale.  Citation analysis is a standard tool used by information scientists and sociologists studying the history and structure of various academic disciplines.  It has also become common to use citation counts to aid in evaluating publications, authors, journals, or schools.  Such evaluative use is often justified by research that has demonstrated a high degree of correlation between the total of citations to an author or publication and “judgments by peers of the ‘productivity,’ ‘significance,’ ‘quality,’ ‘utility,’ ‘influence,’ ‘effectiveness,’ or ‘impact’ of [scholars] and their scholarly products.”2  Responsible citation analysts, however, are careful to note that citation counts measure a “quality” that is socially defined, reflecting the usefulness of the writings in question to other scholars or to judges, rather than necessarily gauging their intrinsic merit.

The value of citation-counting may also be lessened by limitations in the accuracy, coverage, or timeframe of the source data.  The Iowa Law Review tabulations set forth below, however, are based on the spectacular capabilities of the very accurate and comprehensive database HeinOnline.  HeinOnline, produced by the William S. Hein Company, includes the vast majority of the entire United States law review literature from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.  I devised a search that retrieved virtually all of the over 1.4 million articles in that database3 and then used the ability of HeinOnline to sort those articles by “Number of Times Cited by Articles” or “Number of Times Cited by Cases” to generate thorough and precise rankings.

There are some biases present even in the best citation rankings.  It generally takes decades for an article to amass the large citation count needed to make an all-time list, so it is difficult for a very recent article to compete with leading older ones.  Also chronologically disfavored are very old articles handicapped by the fact that the citing literature was much smaller and footnoting practices much less developed in the period before the late 20th century.  A final bias in the rankings involves subject matter.  Some areas, such as constitutional law, civil procedure, contracts, property, torts, and criminal law, have large scholarly literatures affording ample opportunities for being cited.  Other subjects, such as corporate law, family law, intellectual property, and international law, have smaller literatures and less opportunity for citations that could earn articles in these fields a place on “most-cited” rosters.

If the caveats above are kept in mind, I believe my two lists are very useful and interesting guides to the history and impact of the first century of the Iowa Law Review.  At the top of both lists is a landmark article by a very distinguished judge, former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Patricia M. Wald.4  Some law review articles are of interest only in the cloistered ivory tower of academia, others are of practical or doctrinal relevance to the work of courts; this one clearly has been important to scholars and to the judiciary and the advocates who practice before them.

Placing second among the articles most cited by other articles is Free Speech and Social Structure by Yale professor Owen M. Fiss.5  Many other distinguished authors follow, including, to name just a few, Milton Handler, Richard B. Stewart, Jack B. Weinstein, Frank I. Michelman, and Harry T. Edwards.  The subjects represented on the list of fifty span a very wide range, with no pattern of dominance by particular fields except for a mild emphasis on constitutional law.

The list of the top ten articles most cited by courts is also a diverse one.  One interesting fact about it is that Arthur Bonfield, now Allan D. Vestal Chair at the University of Iowa College of Law, has two of the seven highest-ranking articles on this enumeration.

Table I.      Iowa Law Review Articles Most Cited by Other Legal Periodical Articles

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Table II.       Iowa Law Review Articles Most Cited by Judicial Opinions

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  1. [1]. Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Law Review Articles, 73 Calif. L. Rev. 1540 (1985); Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Articles from The Yale Law Journal, 100 Yale L.J. 1449 (1991); Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Law Review Articles Revisited, 71 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 751 (1996); Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Legal Scholars, 29 J. Legal Stud. 409 (2000); Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Legal Books Since 1978, 29 J. Legal Stud. 397 (2000); Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Law Reviews, 29 J. Legal Stud. 389 (2000); Fred R. Shapiro & Michelle Pearse, The Most-Cited Law Review Articles of All Time, 110 Mich. L. Rev. 1483 (2012).

  2. [2]. Stephen M. Lawani & Alan E. Bayer, Validity of Citation Criteria for Assessing the Influence of Scientific Publications: New Evidence with Peer Assessments, 34 J. Am. Soc’y for Info. Sci. 59, 61 (1983).

  3. [3]. The search, based on lists of the most common words in the English language, was “the OR of OR a OR to OR in OR is OR that OR it OR he OR was OR for OR on OR are OR as OR with OR his OR they OR at OR be OR this OR have OR from OR one OR had OR by OR law.”

  4. [4]. Patricia M. Wald, Some Observations on the Use of Legislative History in the 1981 Supreme Court Term, 68 Iowa L. Rev. 195 (1983).

  5. [5]. Owen M. Fiss, Free Speech and Social Structure, 71 Iowa L. Rev. 1405 (1986).

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Associate Librarian for Collections and Access and Lecturer in Legal Research, Yale Law School; Editor, Yale Book of Quotations and Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations.Associate Librarian for Collections and Access and Lecturer in Legal Research, Yale Law School; Editor, Yale Book of Quotations and Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations.