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Empirical Legal Research: Getting Started

Research Guides

If you are not familiar with the topic, you may find that a research guide or tutorial is a useful tool to assist you with your research. We hope that you will find this guide helpful.

You should review the date the research guide was last updated. Using a research guides updated in the last year will help ensure you are relying on current information. However, if you are conducting historical research, an older guide may be helpful.

Some of the most popular guides include:

1)  Georgetown Law Library, Statistics & Empirical Legal Studies Research Guide, (Updated June 2010)

2)  Chicago-Kent School of Law, Empirical and Non-Legal Research Resources Guide, (Updated August 10, 2010)

3)  While not specifically providing a research guide, the Empirical Research Support site of Goodson Law Library at Duke University provides links to training tools, data-sets, and other information to assist empirical legal researchers.

Current Awareness and News - Empirical Legal Studies Blog

The ELS (Empirical Legal Studies) Blog is one of the premier sources of news and comment about empirical legal research, publications and training. Below is a feed from the blog.

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Empirical Research in Law, Empirical Legal Studies or Scholarship? Why is empirical research in the law important?

While there has been some debate regarding the proper name for and definition of empirical research in law, for purposes of introduction, this guide accepts the explanation put forth by John Baldwin and Gwynn Davis in Chapter 39 of the Oxford Handbook of Legal Studies: 

"...empirical research in law involves the study, through direct methods rather than secondary sources, of the institutions rules, procedures, and personnel of the law, with a view to understanding how they operate and what effects they have.  It is not a synonym for 'statistical' or 'factual', and its intellectual depth and significance are not determined by the empirical label ... 

Pauline Kim, University of Washington School of Law, put it similarly: 

Empirical legal scholarship involves methods developed in the social sciences and is different from traditional legal research in that it "systematically explores facts about the operation of the law and legal institutions."

Empirical research is important because "there are important questions in the law and about legal institutions that can’t be answered" through the traditional textual analysis methods of research.   For example, if a researcher is interested in researching the impact of selecting a particular rule of law on the decision making of individuals and businesses. Textual analysis would not shed light on a topic. However, we can certainly understand how an argument for a judgment accepting a particular rule of law would be strengthened by including evidence on the likely effect on "actors in the real world."

Pauline Kim, Do We Have the Numbers? Empirical Research in Law – International Law as a Case Study, Program at the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting (July 10, 2006)

Funding for Empirical Legal Research

Conducting empirical research often involves significant costs, including the costs associated with collection or accessing data. As a result, empirical researchers may need to seek funds from grants awarding organizations and other funding sources. Academic researchers may find the institutional Office of Research can provide assistance in locating information about grant awarding institutions as well as assistance in preparing grant proposals. If the services of a Research Office are not available, some of the resources below will assist the researcher in seeking funding.

Subject Guide

Insitutional Review Boards

Empirical researchers are often required, before they begin the research, to obtain approval of the research from an Institutional Review Board (IRB). They may also be required to submit periodic progress reports to the IRB. Academic researchers may find that the Office of Research can provide useful information or guide the researcher through the IRB Process.