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Author Order in Law Reviews

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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6 Responses

  1. Daniel Solove says:

    Very interesting. I wonder, though, whether the attitudes toward author ordering could readily be changed. In other fields, with the alphabetical rules, I wonder whether those listed first still have an advantage. So even in a system where everyone knows the rule is alphabetical, there still might be many who ascribe more weight to the authors listed first. Much work in behavioral economics and psychology suggests that people’s attitudes are sticky and don’t readily change despite their knowledge. People might know that the ordering is arbitrary yet still ascribe significance to the first author.

    For example, we all know the problems about article placement and that law students select articles. Yet despite this knowledge, we still ascribe a lot of weight to article placement.

    Thus, would changing the norm at HLS and other top journals change the attitudes about authors not listed first? I’d be interested in whether there are studies that show whether people’s attitudes toward authors listed first in disciplines with alphabetical rules are significantly different than attitudes toward authors listed first in disciplines without such rules.

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    Dan,

    You are right — people will still mistake being first with being best. There is at least one study (which the paper I linked to discusses) that finds that economics with early-alphabet names are promoted, tenure, and lateral at higher rates. Similarly, the Harvard study I think found serious problems in medicine in terms of abuse. So even in my reformed system, there would be issues. But the advantage is that right now, we are both different from other disciplines and also have no articulated standard (just a vague sense of first=precedence). Clarity would be better, as would rules insisting that after the abstract the authors explain their relative contribution. Reading enough of those contribution disclaimers might influence peoples’ views.

  3. Christa L. says:

    I agree that we need a clear standard, a list of relative contributions, and to get rid of the et al bluebooking standard, but why alphabetical? Why not just let the authors determine who contributed more to the piece?
    I think for this to work, however, law journals first need to stop selecting on letter head bias, otherwise whoever has the best letterhead will continue to be listed first regardless of contribution.

  4. former AE says:

    My law review published an article from three law professors, and we listed their names in the order they gave. It may have been alphabetical, but in any event, I’m certain that the biggest “name” professor was not listed first.

    Also, isn’t the “et al.” thing only applicable if there are three or more? So if it’s just two, it’s always Balkin & Levinson — but if you hit three, then it could be Solove et al.

  5. dave hoffman says:

    AE: It’s true that the et al. rule applies only to 2+ authors, but that isn’t super helpful. If I were to write with, say, Balkin and Solove (no doubt about the constitutional aspects of privacy in dockets), Balkin would get the cite and Solove and I would not even be listed as authors. How does that make any sense at all? The primary purpose of citation is to enable the reader to find the source, but a secondary purpose is full attribution. In a world where we use citation analysis for many purposes, I don’t see any good reason to drop names.

    Christa: I agree. To be fair to HYS,they are basically anonymous review + peer check at this point.

  6. Ethan L. says:

    Of course “et al.” is a problem in a world where citation counts are currency. This wasn’t a big deal in the pre-Leiter days but is becoming one; the Bluebook will adapt, I’m sure.

    I don’t think ordering in published articles has much to do with the letterhead bias explanation: authors can easily re-adjust ordering once they get their acceptances. Ever wonder why articles seem to still be over the 35,000 word limit? Because professors trim to get their acceptances and bloat after the journal is committed. They can easily change ordering after they use name recognition to drive an acceptance.

    I agree that coordination could be helpful. But disclosures might not have their intended effect. Authors will probably just represent that they all contributed equally, which may or may not be true. Or they will produce an explanation that won’t really give an accurate sense of responsibilities to someone who hasn’t co-authored and lived through a real joint project. Or one co-author will take first authorship because they effectively control the project, even if the ideas and writing were equally attributable to all authors. That doesn’t translate well into a first note and actually will tend to create potential discord within the team. I tend to think any departure from alphabetical of one form or another calls for explanation, though as I’ve suggested, forcing a public one might have costs. Tenure and laterals committees will just have to try to get to the truth of relative contribution if they really care and when the work can actually be disaggregated. It isn’t always easy to say who did what: even if one author did most of the writing (after many ideas for the paper were produced by other on the team), another may have saved the team from a huge error in the write-up, earning her keep and making a contribution that was quite significant. Disclose that?

    There is one exception: when authors write together more than once, variation to control for first-author bias seems appropriate and should be encouraged. But that disclosure too would look odd: “The authors have been rotating their names over their last 5 papers to control for the cognitive biases of the reader to give the first author most of the credit.”

    Just some thoughts on a Friday, as I finish up work on two co-authored works and turn to a third.

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