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Evaluating Academic Legal Research in Europe

The Advantage of Lagging Behind

Edited by Rob van Gestel and Andreas Lienhard

Legal academics in Europe publish a wide variety of materials including books, articles and essays, in an assortment of languages, and for a diverse readership. As a consequence, this variety can pose a problem for the evaluation of academic legal research. This thought-provoking book offers an overview of the legal and policy norms, methods and criteria applied in the evaluation of academic legal research, from a comparative perspective.
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Rob van Gestel and Andreas Lienhard

The overall aim of this book is to gain a broader overview of the practices, policies, methods and criteria applied in the evaluation of academic legal research in Europe. To this end, we have asked experts from 111 European countries to describe the evaluation practices of legal publications in different contexts, such as the scrutiny by journals and publishers, PhD committees, funding bodies and national research assessment exercises. In addition, we have included a chapter on the EU context in research evaluation because it increasingly affects how research quality is perceived throughout Europe. We were curious to learn to what extent there is consensus about how the ‘quality’ of legal research is determined in a range of countries with different histories, traditions and (academic) legal cultures. In most of the European countries we studied, some similar questions arise regarding the evaluation of academic legal research publications. Institutions for higher education witness growing pressure to develop suitable procedures to evaluate their research. Additionally, increased requirements of accountability for research institutions and researchers to funding bodies have forced researchers and university man¬agers to address this topic.

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Edited by Rob van Gestel and Andreas Lienhard

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Rob van Gestel and Andreas Lienhard

Who are the best legal scholars in Europe in different fields of law? Which journals are considered the best in Europe and what sorts of assessment methods do editorial boards and publishers apply when evaluating manu¬scripts? These are but a few of the questions that are difficult to answer for legal academics, university managers and funding bodies. To outsiders, these kinds of questions might seem trivial, because in most other (social) sciences many scholars know each other’s h-index, there are official rankings of journals and publishers, and editorial boards are quite clear about the standards they apply for (single or double blind) peer review. In law, however, all this is different. Not only do legal academics in Europe publish a wide variety of articles, essays, books, commentaries, case notes and so on, in a broad range of languages, about a wide variety of national legal systems; but unlike scholars in the hard sciences, they also address multiple audiences. The readership of legal scholars ranges from other academics to courts, solicitors, legislators and so on. Without realizing it, the absence of uniform evaluation practices for academic legal publications may have unexpected consequences.

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Andreas Lienhard, Karin Byland and Martin Schmied

Increased requirements of accountability put research institutions and researchers under pressure to introduce standards for research evaluation. This also applies to legal research in Switzerland. This chapter analyses the procedures and criteria employed for the evaluation of academic legal publications in different contexts. Findings show that in most contexts, academic legal publications are being assessed by (simple) peer review procedures. Double-blind peer review remains rare, as well as the use of bibliometric methods and indicators. Moreover, attempting to counter the shortcomings of peer review with bibliometrics is not a solution. Criteria of how to assess academic legal publications are not communicated in detail or remain general. However, the quality of academic legal publications is often assessed by the “implicit knowledge” of the reviewers, but there is no consensus among researchers on how to define, let alone, measure quality. We therefore argue that there is room for increasing the transparency of evaluation criteria and procedures in Switzerland.