Fewer Cases Cite Harvard Law Review

Harvard Law School may dominate the Supreme Court with five alums on the bench, but a new study suggests Harvard is losing its grip on one corner of the legal establishment.

The Harvard Law Review is cited less and less in decisions by federal courts, in keeping with a trend across several major law reviews, according to a study published last month by staff at the Cardozo Law Review of Yeshiva University.

The researchers found that the Harvard journal was cited 4,410 times in federal courts during the 1970s, but only 1,956 in the 1990s, and 937 so far in this decade—despite an increase in the number of cases brought to courts.

Andrew M. Crespo ’05, president of the Harvard Law Review, said these statistics do not represent a decline in the importance of law reviews.

“While judges play a unique and important role, they are by no means the only audience,” he said.

Instead, he suggested that the drop is a direct result of increasing caseloads.

“Judges are extremely overworked in America,” he said. “They often don’t have the luxury of time in each opinion to add a list of citations to law review articles.”

The Cardozo report also noted that law reviews have become increasingly theoretical, as opposed to practical, in recent years.

In addition to becoming more theory-based, law reviews have also multiplied recently. At Harvard Law, there are 13 other law journals in addition to the Law Review, according to the school’s Web site. The list of publications includes the Environmental Law Review and the Latino Law Review, among others.

Rachel Alpert, a second-year Harvard Law student, said that the increased availability of more specialized journals has decreased the readership for broader reviews like the Harvard Law Review.

“I think there’s an increase into looking into other kinds of sources, like speciality journals,” she said.

Despite the fall in number of references to law reviews, Alpert said Harvard’s edition is still popular around campus.

“I’ll read it sometimes, when it’s a relevant article,” she said. “The Supreme Court issue always gets read by everyone.”

One Harvard Law School professor said that the drop does not reflect a decline of intellectualism among judges.

“I don’t think judges ever [did] read law reviews,” said J. Mark Ramseyer, professor of Japanese legal studies.

“A judge might take the Wall Street Journal or the ABA Journal home, but I don’t think he’s going to take the Yale Law Review,” he said.

Ramseyer said that the fall in the number of judges’ citations of journals should not be taken too seriously.

“They are not a metric of importance I would have chosen to use,” he said.