Open access legal scholarship is 50% more likely to be cited than material published in proprietary journals

A paper from James M. Donovan (U Kentucky) and Carol A. Watson (U Georgia) analyzes the pattern of citations in law journals and finds that legal scholars who publish in open access (free and freely copyable) journals are 50 percent more likely to be cited in subsequent papers than those who publish in traditional journals, which can be very expensive. It's easy to see why publishing your work in a forum that is easier to get hold of would lead to it being read and cited by your peers, and this has also been the pattern in scientific open access journals.
To date, there have been no studies focusing exclusively on the impact of open access on legal scholarship. We examine open access articles from three journals at the University of Georgia School of Law and confirm that legal scholarship freely available via open access improves an article's research impact. Open access legal scholarship - which today appears to account for almost half of the output of law faculties - can expect to receive 50% more citations than non-open access writings of similar age from the same venue.
Citation Advantage of Open Access Legal Scholarship (Thanks, DaraMcQ, via Submitterator!)


  1. This would be great news if ‘open-access’ journals were free to publish in. The ‘open’ is misleading, since it only describes one side of accessibility: access to see the article, not access to publishing it in the first place. The net effect is that wealthier researchers can ‘buy’ better impact… Poor labs and research groups cannot afford to publish in open-access journals. So, the ‘rich’ get richer.

  2. This is particularly true when open papers are collected in a system such as CiteSeer. If I’m using CiteSeer for computer science research I can grind through hundreds of papers in a few hours. Since I can see the forward references of the papers I can rapidly find and read the crucial material.

  3. This makes a lot of sense, but it isn’t as simple as it seems.

    As a recovering academic who still does scientific research and still publishes, I know how liberating it is to track down a reference and be able to download it immediately from an open-access journal – as opposed to finding that the pdf is “secured” (love that word!) to paying subscribers only. In my case, an adjunct appointment makes it easy enough for me to get through the paywall in most cases, but it’s a hassle because I’m using an off-campus IP address. Of course you can always request a reprint pdf from the corresponding author, but that’s an uncertain process and useless for older work. So, yay for open source.

    The other side of the coin is when you publish a paper. Conventional journals (with the exception of a few like PNAS) don’t expect payment, but open-source ones do – typically thousands of dollars. That’s fine if you’ve written pub costs into a grant, or have a complaisant chair who will chip in from the discretionary kitty, but not so much if you depend on your own resources and have already spent a lot of money doing the research. In that case, you might be tempted – strongly tempted – to publish in a conventional, paywalled journal.

    The best balance between free access and free publishing that I know of is the amazing Journal of Experimental Biology, which doesn’t charge for publication, has great editors (disclaimer: A couple of them are personal friends), and access to all is free after six months. Such journals offer the best of both worlds. Science could do with more of them.

  4. Most OA journals don’t ask for author payments (according to this very comprehensive OA Overview, 75% of OA journals do not charge fees: In the cases when they charge fees, it’s often in the hard sciences, where grants typically cover publication fees. Several universities also offer OA funds, and many journals waive fees for researchers who cannot afford to pay.

  5. There are at least two American/English language communication studies journals that are OA, and they don’t ask for payment — asking for payment is absurd for real journals! Often, the ones that want money are just pay-scams. Here are the two US OA comm journals: and (a long and lousy orig URL).

  6. Researchers who work at University or College should talk to their librarians. Sometimes the library will help cover some or all of the publishing costs.

    1. As an Electronic Resources Librarian, I would not count on programs where libraries contribute to publishing costs. Our budgets are getting slashed significantly every year. Usage statistics rule collection development decisions, and assisting OA initiatives is a pretty low priority at the moment. If your library can afford to support your research in this way, God bless them! Not many can.

  7. Being recently new to the academic environment at this level I admire this notion but have one question – Open Access journals, what is the peer review process fro publication and does it stand up in direct comparison to more traditional methods of scrutiny?

    1. Open Access journals, what is the peer review process fro publication and does it stand up in direct comparison to more traditional methods of scrutiny?

      Yes, it’s exactly the same — or, rather, Open Access is unrelated to the peer review process, Open Access journals (like their closed brethren) span the range from top-rank to rubbish.

      Since peer reviewers are unpaid in either model (or at least not paid by the journal), this is probably not surprising.

  8. As a student currently studying in Japan, I can tell you, I’m personally far more likely to cite a journal study that available online than one limited to a paper journal. Even the major unis don’t have the resources to buy, or store, all of those…

    After that… if it’s in JSTOR or the the like, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference to me at this point in my academic career whether it’s open or not, as I’ll get access to everything because of my university.

    I’m hoping open access catches on more in my field before I leave my uni, and thus have to pay for journals myself.

  9. Some for-profit scientific journals make the first issue of the year available to non-subscribers as a sort of “teaser.” Somebody should compare the citation rates for those issues versus the rest since that should control for the quality of the journal when determining how much open access improves citation rates.

  10. This just-published study, with a more rigorous statistical methodology, shows that, at least for physiology papers, there is no citation advantage for different access models:

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