This Essay presents a list of the fifty most-cited legal scholars of all time, intending to spotlight individuals who have had a very notable impact on legal thought and institutions. Because citation counting favors scholars who have had long careers, I supplement the main listing with a ranking of the most-cited younger legal scholars. In addition, I include five specialized lists: most-cited international law scholars, most-cited corporate law scholars, most-cited scholars of critical race theory and feminist jurisprudence, most-cited public law scholars, and most-cited scholars of law and social science. (For those readers who cannot wait to see the actual lists, Tables 1–7 are on pages 8–11.)
The utility of citation totals as indicators of scholarly quality or even of scholarly influence is controversial, but they have been shown to correlate positively with informed subjective assessments. The danger in relying on such counts is that, because they are so convenient, they will be disproportionately relied upon relative to their actual probative value. There are a number of significant biases in citation statistics, and there are a variety of pitfalls that should be avoided in attempting to compile meaningful citation data. I will describe these biases and pitfalls when I explain the derivation and methodology of my study. It is my hope that I have produced tabulations that, although they clearly have imperfections, can serve as examples of careful analysis. Such examples are sorely needed after flawed proposed “scholarly impact rankings” by the U.S. News and World Report threatened to have a harmful effect on legal education.