Vol. 13, No. 6, March 2011
Empirical Legal Studies
Empirical Legal Studies is a growing field in legal scholarship, involving an analysis of collected information. The data can be qualitative or quantitative in nature, with the analysis usually couched in a statistical framework.1 While articles of this type can seem impenetrable at first, especially with the levels of math some articles include, there are many resources available to help the average lawyer or law student understand the message behind the math. The first stop in getting acquainted with empirical legal research is the blog Empirical Legal Studies, a leading blog in the field. The blog, started by several law professors, focuses on current trends in empirical legal research. It highlights recent articles with empirical methodology, and also reports on conferences and training opportunities for empirical legal research. Make sure to explore its blogroll, which includes the Social Science Statistics Blog and the Freakonomics blog.
Several schools have Empirical Research Centers associated with them. One example is the Center for Empirical Research in the Law, at Washington University in St. Louis. The Center is focused on serving its home University, but it also provides assistance to others. They offer workshops to legal academics in the design and implementation of empirical research projects, and are open to collaborations with scholars from other schools. They also host several large databases for use by the general public.
Data is a fundamental necessity in empirical research. There are many ways to gather data, such as conducting a research survey or analyzing the content of a set of cases oneself, but many useful data sets have already been compiled. Don’t let this site’s URL or lack of fancy web design fool you – this is a well maintained list of data sets, created by legal information scholar Robert C. Richards. Be sure to follow the link to the Supreme Court Database, one of the premier databases of legal information around.
Web Center for Social Research Methods
Mathematical proficiency is not a perquisite to the study of law - there is no ‘math’ section on the LSAT. At the same time, empirical legal research requires analysis of data, and that analysis can include advanced statistical models. Websites like the Web Center for Social Research Methods are an introduction to the statistical methods used in empirical legal scholarship. The Knowledge Base is an online textbook of not only statistics, but general research design. There is also an application to help researchers choose a statistical test to best analyze a particular data set.
This database provides a way to search for articles with an empirical legal research component. The database does not exhaustively cover every law review published, but it does include relevant non-law review journals, exemplifying the interdisciplinary nature of empirical legal research. Using the “Search by Subject” feature is the quickest way to find a list of articles on a topic. Note the frequency of citations to the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. JELS was started in 2004 and has quickly become a frequently cited journal.
1 Peter Cane & Herbert M. Kritzer, Introduction to The Oxford Handbook of Empirical Legal Research 1, 4 (Peter Cane & Herbert M. Kritzer eds., 2010).