Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Inoculating Law Schools Against Bad Metrics

Kimberlee G. Weatherall (University of Sydney Law School; Google Scholar) & Rebecca Giblin (University of Melbourne Law School; Google Scholar), Inoculating Law Schools Against Bad Metrics:

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.

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