Thank you for the invitation to guest-blog this week.
I read the recent discussion generated by John Pfaff -- Federalism and Empirical Research -- with great interest. It is not surprising that empirical legal research is drawn in part to where data is more easily available, arguably at the risk of overlooking different levels of government (e.g., as in the case with sentencing guidelines), or ignoring areas of law that would benefit from such inquiries. It is in the latter case that I would like to pose my question:
A brief context for this question: while I was serving on the judicial clerkship committee this year, many students asked whether it was a worthwhile experience. A few were convinced with my simply responding "yes," but many wanted a fuller explanation. Specifically, they wanted some statistics: what was the short- and long-term returns to clerking? This of course is an empirical question that could be examined in a number of ways (e.g., propensity score matching examining similarly situated law students distinguishable by whether they clerked), but one that I had difficulty providing an answer, even for Northwestern graduates who had clerked. The reason is that most law schools keep sporadic records on who among their graduates clerked, and if so, where.
Judicial clerkships is only one such example of our inability to understand our own profession. There are several aspects of the legal profession that are poorly understood (I have some thoughts).
It is fairly easy to explain why these questions are difficult to answer. The legal profession is bound by strict rules of confidentiality (e.g., attorney-client privilege) but also opaque. Unlike public corporations, law firms disclose little, if any information. The government collects vast information on its attorneys, but makes little of it available to the public.
Questions about the legal profession track my own interest in labor and employment issues generally. But more significantly, I believe in the value of better understanding our own profession, since at the end of the day, the central mission of law schools is to prepare its graduates to become lawyers.
Thus, I have two questions:
1. What areas of the legal profession warrant greater empirical examination?
2. How might this occur?