Empirical Legal Research

Empirical Legal Research

A Guidance Book for Lawyers, Legislators and Regulators

Frans L. Leeuw and Hans Schmeet

Empirical Legal Research describes how to investigate the roles of legislation, regulation, legal policies and other legal arrangements at play in society. It is invaluable as a guide to legal scholars, practitioners and students on how to do empirical legal research, covering history, methods, evidence, growth of knowledge and links with normativity. This multidisciplinary approach combines insights and approaches from different social sciences, evaluation studies, Big Data analytics and empirically informed ethics. The book discusses the tensions between the normative character of law and legal issues and the descriptive and causal character of empirical legal research, and suggests ways to help handle this seeming disconnect.

Chapter 6: Research designs: raisons d’être, examples and criteria

Frans L. Leeuw and Hans Schmeet

Subjects: law - academic, criminal law and justice, law and society, research methods in law, research methods, research methods in law


De Vaus (2001: 8) clarifies this concept by using the following analogy: When constructing a building there is no point ordering materials for completion of project stages until we know what sort of building is being constructed. The first decision is whether we need a high-rise office building, a factory for manufacturing machinery, a school, a residential home or an apartment block. Until this is done we cannot sketch a plan, obtain permits, work out a work schedule or order materials. Similarly, research needs a design or a structure before data collection or analysis can commence. . . . The function of a research design is to ensure that the evidence obtained enables us to answer the initial question as unambiguously as possible. Obtaining relevant evidence entails specifying the type of evidence needed to answer the research question, to test a theory, to evaluate a program or to accurately describe some phenomenon. In other words, when designing research we need to ask: given this research question. . . . what type of evidence is needed to answer the question in a convincing way? What does this analogy mean when empirical legal research is involved? An example may help. Suppose you are asked to investigate what the impact is of a new law on preventing and reducing domestic violence in country X? The law was implemented in 2015 for the northern part of the country and in 2016 for the rest of the country.

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