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 5: Research reviews and syntheses

Frans L. Leeuw and Hans Schmeet


For a considerable time, scientists have been doing literature studies summarizing the existing (empirical) evidence in a field. They wanted to know and understand the results of earlier studies, to test their theories or for other reasons. And rightly so. Progress in science is largely produced through standing on the shoulders of others. However, over the last decades it became clear that the way in which this work was done was often not systematic. Gough, Oliver and Thomas (2011: 5) put it as follows: [Literature] reviewers did not necessarily attempt to identify all the relevant research, check that it was reliable or write up their results in an accountable manner. Traditional literature reviews typically present research findings relating to a topic of interest. They summarize what is known on a topic. They tend to provide details on the studies that they consider without explaining the criteria used to identify and include those studies or why certain studies are described and discussed while others are not. Potentially relevant studies may not have been included, because the review author was unaware of them or, being aware of them, decided for reasons unspecified not to include them. If the process of identifying and including studies is not explicit, it is not possible to assess the appropriateness of such decisions or whether they were applied in a consistent and rigorous manner. It is thus also not possible to interpret the meaning of the review findings.

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