Publishing an article takes a long time. Editors make suggestions. The writer makes changes. Citations are double-checked. Then formatting and final edits. The entire process can take months or even years. So how do legal researchers ensure they have read the most up-to-date scholarship on their topic?
Smart legal researchers check SSRN. SSRN, which stands for Social Science Research Network, is a free website for posting scholarship before (and after) publication. Over the years SSRN has grown to include scholarship on virtually any topic, not just the social sciences. Some influential scholarship is posted on SSRN and never published in a journal or book. Most law school faculty post their scholarship on SSRN. By the time that article comes out in a print publication, it can be old news already!
To check SSRN, go to SSRN.com. The search bar is front and center. If your search returns too many results, consider clicking on “Advanced Search” where you can limit your search to just the title, or just the title, abstract and keywords. Searching in just the title, abstract, and keywords of articles is a good way to narrow your search to articles that focus on your topic and don’t just mention it in passing.
If you know of any scholars whose research focuses on your topic, use SSRN to see their latest paper. Search for their names individually from the main search bar or use the author field on the advanced search page. Click their name on an article in the search results. Then sort by “Date Posted, Descending” to see their most recent articles rise to the top of the list. You can also sort by most downloads to see their most popular research.
Another tip for using SSRN is always check for a published version of an article, especially if it isn’t super recent and has the name of a publication with “forthcoming” in the citation. This is really important if you plan to cite the paper. You need to make sure you cite the final, published version. Sometimes the final, published paper is posted, but often it isn’t. Googling the article title and author can often help you identify the publication information and locate the final version for law journal articles. Be aware, though, that sometimes the name of the article can change during the publication process, though this is rare. If you have any trouble, contact a librarian or the reference desk. We are happy to help.
If you can’t find a published version, even for older articles, feel free to cite to the SSRN version. Legal scholars frequently cite to SSRN. See Bluebook rules 17.3 and 17.4. I usually cite to SSRN using the “forthcoming” rule 17.3, then add a comma and the link to the paper on SSRN at the end of the citation, like this:
Aaron L. Nielson & Christopher J. Walker, The Early Years of Congress’s Anti-Removal Power, Aᴍ. J. Lᴇɢᴀʟ Hɪsᴛ. (forthcoming), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4361394.
If you know the year and/or the volume for the forthcoming work, you can include that also. Here’s a link to that paper because it is super interesting: The Early Years of Congress’s Anti-Removal Power.
You too can post a paper to SSRN for free even if it isn’t published or isn’t going to be published. Create a free account and go to “My papers.” Fill out the screen and submit. SSRN’s moderators will review the paper before posting, which usually takes about 24 hours. If you revise the paper later (for example, during the publication process), you can always log into your account and swap out the older version for the revised paper.