Research Methods for Law

By Mike McConville; Wing Hong Chui | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Qualitative Legal Research

Ian Dobinson and Francis Johns


INTRODUCTION

In 2002 a lively exchange took place in the University of Chicago Law Review between two eminent social scientists on one side1 and a distinguished law professor on the other.2 The substance of the debate centred on the assertion by the social scientists that:

Although the term ‘empirical research’ has become commonplace in
legal scholarship over the past two decades, law professors . . . appear to
have been proceeding with little awareness of, much less compliance
with, many of the rules of inference, and without paying heed to the
key lessons of the revolution in empirical analysis that has been taking
place over the last century in other disciplines.3

The two social scientists had analysed all American law review articles pub- lished between 1990 and 2000 which had the word ‘empirical’ in the title. The conclusions, they said, were discouraging, with every single one breaching what they contend are basic rules of empirical research.4

The law professor, whose research had been specifically criticised by the social scientists, responded by saying that:

Epstein and King state in no uncertain terms that empirical legal
scholarship is wholly unconcerned with questions of methodology, and
that no law review article – not a single one – is concerned with
‘understanding, explicating, or adapting the rules of inference.’ Perhaps
not surprisingly, given the sweeping and incautious nature of their
claim, the authors are simply wrong.5

-16-

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