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SSRN

Prepared by Mary Whisner
Updated Feb. 13, 2015

The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is a huge open-access repository for scholarly papers in law, the social sciences, business, and some other disciplines. Hundreds of thousands of authors have posted abstracts and papers. Over half a million abstracts are online, with almost 450,000 papers available in full.

It is a great tool for research (finding and getting access to papers). It is also a great tool for authors (helping them get their work into the world).


Using Search Engines

Major search engines (including Google and Bing) include SSRN abstracts. If you want to restrict a Google or Bing search to SSRN, add the domain to the search, like  this:

"privileges and immunities" site:ssrn.com


Searching in SSRN

The SSRN search box lets you search the words in the title and abstract, the title alone, or the author.

SSRN search box

 

You can limit your search to papers posted within a recent period (from the last week to the last three years). (Note that papers that were written many years ago might have been posted recently.)

SSRN search box with pull-down menu to restrict by date

 

You can search within results. For example, searching within the 614 papers retrieved by "affordable care act" for the word "contraception" yielded 26 papers.*

SSRN search within box

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Sorting Results

You can sort your results in different ways. The default shows you the papers that have been downloaded the most—i.e., the papers that are most popular (and therefore might be most influential).

For example, a recent search for "affordable care act" retrieved 614 papers.* The most downloaded was Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA, by Jonathan H. Adler and Michael F. Cannon, which had been downloaded 5,049 times.

SSRN search results showing Taxation Without Representation

You can also sort by abstract title or by date—e.g., so you can see newest papers on top. The most recent paper from the "affordable care act" search was More Insurers Lower Premiums: Evidence from Initial Pricing in the Health Insurance Marketplaces, a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, that had been posted the same day as the search.*


Viewing the Abstract

From a results list, you can click on a paper's title to get to its abstract.

SSRN abstract for Taxation Without Representation

You can see other papers by those authors by clicking on their names.

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Downloading

You can download most papers simply by clicking "Download This Paper."

SSRN's Download This Paper button

You might be asked to register (or to log in if you have already registered). Registration is free.

A minority of papers in the database are available only for a fee. You can spot these in a results list by a red dollar sign next to the title.

SSRN result showing dollar sign

When you go to the abstract, you'll have an option to add the paper to your "cart." For instance, More Insurers Lower Premiums: Evidence from Initial Pricing in the Health Insurance Marketplaces is $5 per copy authorized.

SSRN order form for paper with fee

 


Browsing

SSRN offers a variety of ways to browse papers.

At the top of most screens, there's a link to Browse.

SSRN Browse link

That takes you to a list of different "networks"—its collections of papers by discipline, such as the Cognitive Science Network (CSN), the Economics Research Network (ERN), and the Legal Scholarship Network (LSN). (The different networks are described here.)

Browse list of SSRN networks

Most law papers are listed within the Legal Scholarship Network, but many scholars' work is interdisciplinary so papers might also be listed elsewhere. Likewise, most legal researchers will be interested in collections within the Legal Scholarship Network, but they might also venture into other areas, such as Management, Humanities, or Entrepreneurship.

Networks vary in size. As of May 2014,* the Legal Scholarship Network had 176,547 papers, while the Health Economics Network had only 6,657. The largest network is the Economics Research Network, with 320,138 papers at that time.

 

Browsing eJournals

The networks are divided and subdivided. You can browse a large division or drill down again and again. For example, within the Legal Scholarship Network, you can choose Criminal Law & Procedure eJournals (15,571 papers) or one of its subsets, such as White Collar Crime eJournal (900 papers).*

Criminal Law & Procedure journals within LSN

Within White Collar Crime, you can sort (by date or by number of downloads, for example). This is a good way to find out what is recent or well-known (heavily downloaded) in a field.

You can also search within the results. For example, searching for "tax" within the White Collar Crime eJournal yielded 79 papers.*

Browsing Institutional Pages

The browse lists also include collections of papers by institution. If you look down the lists of Law School Research Paper Series, you will find the University of Washington School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series. This page is always growing, as UW authors write and post new papers and also go back to post old papers.

SSRN UW Law Research Papers page

Again, you can sort to find the most downloaded papers or the papers most recently posted. You can also search within the page—e.g., search for "calo" or "corporate governance."

 

Browsing JEL Codes

SSRN has always had a strong orientation toward business and economics: the first four networks, in 1994, were Financial Economics Network, Legal Scholarship Network, Economics Research Network, and the Accounting Research Network. To help researchers navigate the hundreds of thousands of economics papers in the repository, SSRN allows authors to assign JEL Codes—the American Economic Association classification system for the Journal of Economic Literature and EconLit (the leading index of articles in economics)—to their papers. In turn, researchers can use those codes to home in on papers of interest.

According to the American Economics Association's guide to the JEL system, codes beginning with "K" are for works about Law and Economics:

Covers studies about issues related to the intersection of law and economics. Studies emphasizing the economic analysis of law (equity or efficiency) should be classified here. While studies emphasizing the actual effects (empirical studies) of law on the performance of an economy, a sector or sectors of an economy, or individual agents should be cross-classified here and under the other appropriate category or categories. Studies about these subjects related to economic development should be cross-classified here and under O17, and those related to socialist and transitional economies (or other economic systems) should be cross-classified here and under P37 (or P48). Studies about the market for legal services should be classified under L84.

For example, K140, Criminal Law, "Covers studies about issues related to the intersection of criminal law and economics or economies." Examples are Doron Teichman, The Market for Criminal Justice: Federalism, Crime Control, and Jurisdictional Competition, 103 Mich. L. Rev. 1831 (2005), and Brenda Sims Blackwell & Clark D. Cunningham, Taking the Punishment Out of the Process: From Substantive Criminal Justice through Procedural Justice to Restorative Justice, 67 Law & Contemp. Probs. 59 (2004).

To search, just choose JEL Topic List (an option available from the browse screen and the search screen).

SSRN menu JEL Codes

Skim until you find an appropriate code, whether it's C2 (Econometric Methods: Single Equation Models) or K14 (Criminal Law).

SSRN's list of JEL Codes for Law & Economics - screen snip

As with browsing eJournals or institutions' pages, you can search within the results.

It appears that many authors assign JEL Codes even when the papers have little economic analysis. For example, the author of a paper about criminal law might assign K14, thinking that the code is for all of criminal law, not criminal law within Law and Economics. Indeed, of 4,124 papers listed under K14, only 298 had "economic" in their titles or abstracts.** If you are really looking for law and economics, don't rely on the JEL Code alone: select a JEL Code and then search within the results for relevant terms.

On the other hand, some papers that are clearly about law and economics do not have JEL Codes. One highly downloaded paper without a JEL Code is: Eric Posner, Agency Models in Law and Economics, University of Chicago Law School, John M. Olin Law and Economics Working Paper No. 92, http://ssrn.com/abstract=204872 (2000). Clearly about law and economics! So do not think that using a JEL Code will retrieve all law and economics papers. As in all research, thoroughness requires trying more than one approach.

A comment about posting papers

Should all papers have JEL Codes? There is no requirement that they do. I sampled the 100 most downloaded papers with the word "torts" in the title or abstract and the 50 most downloaded papers in the Law & Literature eJournal. Of the 100 torts papers, 55 had JEL Codes and 45 did not. The 50 law and literature papers split evenly, 25-25.** I did not read the abstracts or the papers to see how deep the economic analysis was, but it seems clear that many authors use the codes even for papers with little or no economics. I think that shoehorning non-economic papers into the JEL framework dilutes the usefulness of the codes. A JEL Code is not necessary for a paper to have visibility and get hundreds of downloads. I recommend using the codes only for papers with economic analysis.

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Metrics

SSRN displays various metrics about papers, authors, and institutions. On the paper level, you can see how many times its abstract has been viewed and how many times it has been downloaded. On the author level, you can see how many papers that author has posted, how many times each has been downloaded, and how that author ranks. And on the institution level, you can see the authors affiliated with an institution and their various download stats, as well as rankings.

To see some of the metrics, you will need to log in, but remember that registering is free.

Papers

For example, when you look at the abstract for Designing Islamic Constitutions: Past Trends and Options for a Democratic Future by Clark Lombardi (http://ssrn.com/abstract=2258089), you see that the abstract has been viewed 6,941 times, the paper has been downloaded 4,324 times, and that download counts ranks it 933rd among papers on SSRN.*** screen snip showing download statistics for paper on SSRN

For some papers, you will also see numbers for references and citations. For instance, Reconciling Efficient Markets with Behavioral Finance: The Adaptive Markets Hypothesis, by Andrew W. Lo (http://ssrn.com/abstract=728864) 116 references and 30 citations.*** That means that the paper has 116 references in its bibliography and that 30 other papers on SSRN have cited it.

These counts are generally not helpful for papers in law. Why? Because the automated system SSRN uses to generate them looks only at references that are listed at the end of a paper. Law journals (and legal scholars) almost always put citations in footnotes and do not have separate lists of references at the ends of papers. If you rely on these metrics, it will look as though a legal scholar has cited nothing and is never cited.

screen snip showing paper stats including references and citations

You can browse the top papers (in terms of downloads) by clicking on "Top Papers" at the top of the SSRN screen. You can sort by total downloads are by "new" downloads—i.e., downloads in the last 12 months.

Authors

You can see statistics for an author's papers by going to that author's page. For instance, if you find one article by an author, click on her name and then you will see a page listing all of the papers she has posted . Some authors include the URL for their SSRN pages in their email signature blocks or CVs.

If you go to Jane Winn's page (http://ssrn.com/author=334081), you will see that she is ranked 3,431 in downloads. She has posted 26 papers, which have been downloaded (in aggregate) 7,007 times. Her most popular paper—downloaded 1,002 times—is Diverging Perspectives on Electronic Contracting in the U.S. and the E.U., coauthored with Brian Bix (http://ssrn.com/abstract=893144).***

You can browse the most downloaded authors by clicking on Top Authors at the top of the SSRN screen.

Institutions

The Top Organizations link at the top of the SSRN screen enables you to see statistics for various institutions.

In the Top Organizations menu, you can choose, say, Top International Business Schools or Top U.S. Law Schools. SSRN Top Organizations menu
When you choose Top U.S. Law Schools, you see that the schools with the most downloads in the last year are Harvard, Yale, NYU, Columbia, and Stanford. ***
screen snip of table listing top US law schools (by downloads)
If you are interested in a particular school (e.g., University of Washington), you can search for it. Here is a screen snip showing UW Law at number 43 in downloads.***
screen snip showing UW Law among U.S. Law Schools
You can click on Authors to see a list of all the authors included with that institution. For UW Law (as for other schools) authors can include students as well as faculty. You can sort alphabetically, by recent downloads, by all-time downloads, by number of papers, and so on.

Scholarship About Metrics

Jevin D. West et al., Author-Level Eigenfactor Metrics: Evaluating the Influence of Authors, Institutions and Countries Within the SSRN Community (2012), available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1636719.

Bernard S. Black & Paul Caron, Ranking Law Schools: Using SSRN to Measure Scholarly Performance, 81 Indiana L.J. 83 (2006), available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=784764

Some Cautions About SSRN Metrics

Note that the metrics SSRN offers are limited.

  • Not all authors post their papers on SSRN. Some productive, influential scholars might not be represented at all.
  • Not all authors affiliated with a law school are faculty.
  • Not all researchers find their sources on SSRN. SSRN downloads say nothing about downloads from, say, LexisNexis, Westlaw, or HeinOnline, let alone journal websites or individuals' websites. And some people still read articles in print!
  • Researchers might download an article a lot because its abstract seems interesting and then, once they read it, decide that it's not very useful. A high download count is not a perfect proxy for high quality.
  • References and Citations are undercounted for law papers. See above.
  • SSRN doesn't include books (although some authors post book introductions and individual chapters).

* Searches conducted May 19, 2014.

** Searches conducted July 20, 2014.

*** Searches conducted Feb. 13, 2015.

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