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A (Brief) Introduction to Empirical Legal Scholarship

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1 A (Brief) Introduction to Empirical Legal Scholarship
Prepared by Mirya Holman Duke University Law Library Empirical Research Support

2 What is Empirical Legal Scholarship?
Empirical: derived from experiment and observation rather than theory Legal: of or pertaining to law; connected with the law or its administration Scholarship: learning; knowledge acquired by study; the academic attainments of a scholar Empirical Legal Scholarship: Learning, knowledge, or studies that use experimentation or observation – rather than theory – to comment on the law or its administration.

3 Why Do Empirical Legal Scholarship?
Relatively new field: Lots of opportunities to get published Significant gaps in the literature Exciting avenues for research It is fun! Collaboration and co-authorship opportunities abound

4 Elements of Empirical Research
Qualitative Data Quantitative Data Statistical Analysis Data Collection

5 Qualitative Data Qualitative data is distinguished by being a set of unordered categories Qualitative variables differ in quality, not quantity or magnitude Examples include race, sex, political party, type of law firm Qualitative data is often collected through observation, interviews, participation, or analysis of archival documents Qualitative research “provides often an unparalleled understanding of the motivations behind human behavior, desires and needs” (From the Association for Qualitative Research)

6 Quantitative Data Quantitative (or interval) data varies in magnitude.
Each possible value of a quantitative variable is greater than or smaller than any other possible value. Example include years of education, income, length of time in court, amount of settlement Quantitative research is the systematic investigation of a wide variety of properties, their individual characteristics, and relationships. Quantitative research involves either measuring data, or using someone else’s measurement of data

7 Statistical Analysis What are statistics?
Statistics are information about a subject expressed in numerical form Basic statistical information can includes the mean (or the average), the variance (the mathematical dispersion of a dataset), the range (the distance from the minimum to the maximum), and more. Advanced statistical information can include coefficients and standard errors from regression models, correlation statistics, fixed effects from time series models, and more.

8 Statistical Analysis, cont.
Statistical analysis often involves the use of a statistical software package. These include: SPSS SAS STATA R These packages vary in capacity, in interface, and in cost. The Duke Law Empirical Research Support Program provides support for STATA.

9 Data Collection Collection and use of data is very important in empirical research. A good dataset (or a collection of related data) can produce a wide variety of scholarship. For example: D-NOMINATE scores are a numerical representation of ideology in Congress, compiled and created by Kenneth Poole and Howard Rosenthal These scores have been used in over 100 articles and many books.

10 Empirical Legal Scholarship At Duke
Duke University Law School has started an Empirical Research Support program to assist those interested in Empirical Legal Scholarship Contact Mirya Holman at or or Lauren Collins for more information. has information on: Empirical Legal Scholarship Statistics training Links to data sources Computer program training and support

11 General Resources for Empirical Legal Scholarship
The Society for Empirical Legal Studies publishes: The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies The ELS Blog: UCLA’s Empirical Research Group provides access to an ELS bibliography, datasets, and general information. The Center for Empirical Legal Research in the Law at Washington University Law

12 Steps to a good ELS paper
1. Start with a good research question! 2. Look for existing datasets It is very frustrating to spend hours or days collecting or assembling data, only to find out that it is available somewhere 3. If you cannot run the statistics, ask someone to help Poorly done quantitative analysis, like any other analysis, is not worth doing 4. Be aware of other disciplines Many other social science disciplines have been doing empirical research decades; be sure to look outside the law for relevant literature. Also, the Social Science Research Institute at Duke can provide direct support, while Political Science, Public Policy, Economics, and other schools have professors that actively engage in this research. 5. Get lots of feedback 6. Send it out!

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