Ranking Methodology

The W&L Law Journal Rankings use Boolean searches in Westlaw to determine the number of citing documents – court cases from all U.S. jurisdictions and law review/journal articles – for each law journal. Counted citing documents are those which cite journal volumes published in the preceding five years. (For historical rankings from 2017 and earlier, the survey span is eight years.) These limits help to prevent a bias in favor of long-published journals and to generate rankings based on citations to current scholarship.

The Westlaw search results give only the number of citing documents, and thus do not show where a citing article or case cites to two or more articles in a cited legal periodical. Sources for the citation counts are limited to documents in Westlaw's Law Reviews & Journals database (over 1,000 primarily U.S. publications) and Westlaw's Cases database (all U.S. federal and state cases). The searches look for variations of the Bluebook citation format commonly in use in the U.S. (volume number, journal name, [page], year), and the searches are flexible in allowing the year to occur within eight words of the full or abbreviated journal name.

The Rankings list may include periodicals that began publication after the survey period began. Legal periodicals which appear to have ceased publication (even though they were published during a part of the survey period) are excluded.

The Journal Cites column shows the number of journal articles that cite to each journal within the survey period that were retrieved by a search in the full-text Law Reviews and Journals database on Westlaw.  

The Case Cites column shows the number of cases that cite to each journal within our survey period that were found in the full-text Cases database on Westlaw. 

Comparisons between older and newer annual surveys cannot be made precisely. Although the number of years covered by each ranking column is an identical eight years for 2003 to 2017, the size of the Westlaw databases for each of the rotated periods increases in size a few percent in each later period. Thus, a small percentage increase in the number of documents citing to a journal may be accounted for by an increase in the total number of documents in the database. The composition of Westlaw’s Law Reviews and Journals database is also subject to change when full-text periodicals are added or dropped.

Taking the 2015-2019 period as an example, searches for citing documents are structured to retrieve citations that have one of the volume numbers published for the journal from 2015 onwards (i.e., where the journal has labeled the issue as 2015-2019), followed immediately by the journal abbreviation/name, and within eight words of a year designation of 2015-2019. A further condition is that any document (case or article) in which such a citation appears must be dated (in Westlaw's DATE field) as 2015-2019, and must have been added to the Westlaw databases during the years 2015-2019.

A sample 2015-2019 search statement crafted for the Cases database on Westlaw:
TEXT(72 73 74 75 76 +1 "wash.lee.l.rev." "w&l.l.rev" (wash washington +2 "lee.l.rev.") (((wash washington +2 lee) "w&l" +2 "l.rev." "l.r." (l +1 rev review) (law +2 rev review))) "wash. & lee l. rev." "wash. #and lee l. rev." "washington #and lee law review" "washington & lee law review" /8 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019) & DA(aft2014 & bef2020) & AD(aft2014 & bef2020)