Which Articles have most Influenced Law & Economics Scholarship?

A curated list of the critical research papers

For eleven years Edward Elgar Publishing has published the acclaimed Economic Approaches to Law (EAL) Research Collection series, edited by Judge Richard Posner and Professor Francesco Parisi.

The Research Collection format is designed to improve print access to journal literature, reproducing the most important and influential English language journal articles and papers in a particular field. Each title is edited by leading scholars and includes an original review article, setting their choices into context.

In 2016, the EAL series celebrated its 50th release – Economics of Corporate Law edited by Professors Claire A. Hill and Brett H. McDonnell. A full list of titles in the ‘Economic Approaches to Law’ series can be found at the foot of this post.

The combined listing of 1356 articles, by 1215 scholars, provides a data set for some interesting analysis of the most influential scholars and key contributions across the discipline.

This analysis differs from citation indexes. The articles are not selected purely by how many times they have been cited elsewhere, but whether, in the view of the experienced editors they are critical for an understanding of how subjects have developed. Each Research Collection title in the series is distinct and so the 50 books cover the full breadth of law and economics, with significantly less bias shown towards the most researched topics.

So what and who are the most influential?

When it all started

fig 1

Figure 1. When the papers include in Economic Approaches to Law series were published. Papers included more than once are counted multiple times.

As the chart above demonstrates, the foundations of law and economics study were laid in the 1950s and 1960s, but it was not until the 1970s that the field really took off.

Figure 1 is not exhaustive, however. The series has reproduced a small number of pieces originally published before 1900, by Aristotle (Commons and Anti-commons), Adam Smith (In the Economics of Comparative Law), James Madison (Economics of Constitutional Law) and Augustin Cournot (Commons and Anti-commons).

Leading thinkers

23 scholars have seen their work included in the series 9 or more times. Of the below, the work of Judge Richard Posner and Professor Steven Shavell features the most regularly, an impressive 34 times each.

Nearly half of the authors listed below have also contributed directly to the series as volume editors.

Richard A. Posner 34
Steven Shavell 34
Andrei Shleifer 24
Francesco Parisi 20
Richard A. Epstein 20
William M. Landes 17
Alan O. Sykes 16
Louis Kaplow 16
A. Mitchell Polinsky 14
Eric A. Posner 14
Robert Cooter 14
Florencio López-de-Silanes 13
Rafael La Porta 13
Cass R. Sunstein 12
Lucian Arye Bebchuk 12
Robert W. Staiger 12
Barry R. Weingast 11
Kyle Bagwell 11
Daniel L. Rubinfeld 10
Alan Schwartz 9
Chris William Sanchirico 9
Geoffrey P. Miller 9
Jeffrey J. Rachlinski 9

Table 1. Authors and the number of times that papers authored or co-authored have appeared in the Economic Approaches to Law Series.


Most included papers

Given the number topics the series has covered since it began, and the 50 entries we have accumulated in that time, it is perhaps surprising that relatively few papers are duplicated between volumes. Below is a list of those that have been included 3 or more times.

Bruce L. Benson (1989), ‘The Spontaneous Evolution of Commercial Law’ 4
Guido Calabresi and A. Douglas Melamed (1972), ‘Property Rules, Liability Rules and Inalienability: One View of The Cathedral’ 4
Harold Demsetz (1967), ‘Toward a Theory of Property Rights’, American Economic Review, 57 (2), May, 347–59 4
Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, Andrei Shleifer and Robert W. Vishny (1998), ‘Law and Finance’ 4
A. Mitchell Polinsky and Yeon-Koo Che (1991), ‘Decoupling Liability: Optimal Incentives for Care and Litigation’ 3
Lisa Bernstein (1992), ‘Opting Out of the Legal System: Extralegal Contractual Relations in the Diamond Industry’ 3
R.H. Coase (1960), ‘The Problem of Social Cost’ 3
Richard A. Posner (1973), excerpts from ‘An Economic Approach to Legal Procedure and Judicial Administration’ 3
Robert C. Ellickson (1986), ‘Of Coase and Cattle: Dispute Resolution Among Neighbors in Shasta County’ 3

Table 2. Most included papers in the Economic Approaches to Law series

So what are the most influential papers on Law and Economics?

The data and analysis presented in this blog piece is an amalgamation of the key scholarship that has influenced (and continues to influence) many of the individual strands of law and economics. Can we use this data to identify definitively the key pieces of research across the entire discipline? Perhaps not. The size and complexity of the discipline, coupled with the relatively minor incidence of duplication between volumes, diminishes the usefulness of a purely objective, data-led, approach.

Help, though, is at hand.

Our EAL series editors, Judge Richard Posner and Professor Francesco Parisi, have recently updated and reviewed their classic 1997 survey of the law and economics literature. Their personal assessment of the field is now available online. Alongside each of our new print edition Research Collections it can now be purchased by individuals as an Elgar Research Review* for $35. To give you a taste, it is currently free to access until the end of June 2017.


*Elgar Research Reviews are online only versions of our multi-volume Research Collections, comprising the list of recommended readings and the editor’s original review article, but without access to the reprinted works themselves. They are available pay-per-view via our online platform Elgaronline.

The list of full printed Research Collection books that include the reprinted articles can be found on our website here.

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