Empirical Legal Research
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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.
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Chapter 3: Research problems

Frans L. Leeuw and Hans Schmeet


Legal, organizational or economic problems can create a need for empirical research, but often need to be ‘translated’ into research(able) problems. Take the issue of differences between geographic regions in a country when dealing with adopting and implementing forensic-technological innovations by law enforcement agencies. When these differences exist, they can lead not only to inequalities in terms of crime detection (or clearance) rates between regions, but also to inefficiencies in the operational activities of law enforcement agencies. That, in turn, can contribute to debates about how innovative certain regions are, who are the ‘early adopters’ and who the ‘laggards’, and why that is. Such a situation can lead to the following research problem: What are the indicators of differences in the adoption (rate) of technological-forensic innovations like the ‘lab on a chip’ and ‘automatic number plate recognition’ (ANPR), how do regions in country X differ in adoption (rates), how can these differences be explained and what will be the consequences for law enforcement in this country? A second example concerns the problem that some public sector organizations are confronted with more fraud and corruption than others. Fraud and corruption are societal problems that have (strong) moral and legal connotations.

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