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 10: Empirical legal research: booming business and growth of knowledge?

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


‘Traditional legal scholarship is under pressure. Debates are taking place on the aims and methods of the academic study of law’. These are some of the introductory words by Smits (2012) in his book on the state of the legal sciences. Debates address a wide range of topics, ranging from the methodology of legal research, the curriculum and the future of the profession to the ‘disruptive’ influence that digitization, machine learning and Big Data may have. At the same time the message can be heard that there is an (empirical) revolution going on in the legal sciences. Ho and Kramer (2013) advocate this thesis. They counted the proportion of Stanford Law Review articles mentioning the word ‘empirical’ over a period of almost 60 years, which made them call the development a revolution. A word count is a thin indicator of the ‘empirical engagement’ of legal researchers, as using this word does not necessarily imply that empirical research has been done. Diamond and Mueller (2010: 587) searched deeper and analyzed the content of 60 law review volumes published between 1998 and 2008: ‘Our content analysis revealed that by 2008 nearly half of law review articles included some empirical content. Production of original research is less common’.

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