Going Behind the Scenes of Empirical Legal Research

A new book crossed my desk today, Conducting Law and Society Research: Reflections on Methods and Practices, and here’s its description from the publisher’s website (Cambridge University Press):

Conducting Law and Society Research: Reflections on Methods and Practices

Series: Cambridge Studies in Law and Society

Simon Halliday
University of Strathclyde

Patrick Schmidt
MacAlester College, Minnesota

Through interviews with many of the most noteworthy authors in law and society, Conducting Law and Society Research takes students and scholars behind the scenes of empirical scholarship, showing the messy reality of research methods. The challenges and the uncertainties, so often missing from research methods textbooks, are revealed in candid detail. These accessible and revealing conversations about the lived reality of classic projects will be a source of encouragement and inspiration to those embarking on empirical research, ranging across the full array of disciplines that contribute to law and society. For all of the ambiguities and challenges to the social “scientific” study of law, the reflections found in this book – collectively capturing a portrait of the field through the window of the research efforts – individually remind readers that “good research” displays not an absence of problems, but the care taken in negotiating them.

A very candid look at research methods from the leading scholars in the field - Approachable conversations appropriate for all levels, from students to scholars - Topics range very broadly across the leading approaches and speciality subjects in law and society

Contents
1. Beyond methods: law & society in action; 2. Stewart Macaulay and Non-Contractual Relations and Business (1963); 3. Robert Kagan and Regulatory Justice (1978); 4. Malcolm Feeley and The Process Is the Punishment (1979); 5. Lawrence Friedman and The Roots of Justice (1981); 6. John Heinz and Edward Laumann and Chicago Lawyers (1982); 7. Alan Paterson and The Law Lords (1982); 8. David Engel and The Oven Bird’s Song (1984); 9. Keith Hawkins and Environment and Enforcement (1984); 10. Carol Greenhouse and Praying for Justice (1986); 11. John Conley and William O’Barr and Rules versus Relationships (1990); 12. Sally Engle Merry and Getting Justice and Getting Even (1990); 13. Tom Tyler and Why People Obey the Law (1990); 14. Doreen McBarnet and Whiter than White Collar Crime (1991); 15. Gerald Rosenberg and The Hollow Hope (1991); 16. Michael McCann and Rights at Work (1994); 17. Austin Sarat & William Felstiner and Divorce Lawyers and Their Clients (1995); 18. Yves Dezalay and Bryant Garth and Dealing in Virtue (1996); 19. Patricia Ewick and Susan Silbey and The Common Place of Law (1998); 20. Hazel Genn and Paths to Justice (1999); 21. John Braithwaite and Peter Drahos and Global Business Regulation (2000); 22. John Hagan and Justice in the Balkans (2003); 23. Conclusion: “Research is a Messy Business” — An Archeology of the Craft of Socio-Legal Research – Herbert Kritzer.

 

And the book makes a good case for why PACER data should be free or at least less expensive for law schools:

From chapter 23, Conclusion: “Research is a Messy Business” — An Archeology of the Craft of Socio-Legal Research:

THE MESSIEST MESS IS THE RESEARCH PROCESS: COLLECTING ORIGINAL DATA

. . . Imagine that you want to study something about trials in federal court.  You could turn to the statistical reports published by the Administrative Office (AO) of the U.S. Courts and extract information from the Reports’ well-digested tables.  Or, you could obtain from the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) the case-level data reported to the AO and deposited with the ICPSR (these data form the basis for the published tables); you could then process these data to create whatever summaries you need.  Or, if you have adequate resources, you could access raw case files through the federal court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system; you would then extract and code the information you want from raw case file data. . . .

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