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June 21, 2006


Jay mangal prasad

Please find full description about census in legal research.

Laura Beth Nielsen

Whatever we call ourselves -- New Legal Realists, Empirical Legal Studies or (as I think of myself) good old fashioned Sociolegal Studies/Law and Society (just for fun we could revisit the debate about Law & Society vs. Sociolegal Studies vs. Jurisprudence and Social Policy vs. Law and Social Science) -- method is important. I daresay, WAY more important than the label(s).

I think it would be unfortunate in this field to reproduce the hierarchies of methodology that have plagued other disciplines like sociology and political science. It does not help us move forward in how we understand law and its relationship to society/social problems.

As most people here have said -- it is about the fit of the data to the question being asked (and, of course, how interesting and important the question is).

Multi-method is being embraced in sociology right now as a possible way to get over this great divide and to better answer the questions. It does require expertise on various methods -- mostly we train in one or two. That's why Bob Nelson, me, John Donohue, and Peter Seigelman have teamed up -- I'm the qualitative one, John and Peter have the deep stats basis. Bob has always done a bit of both. I'm learning tons from them but would not be comfortable with my ability to do much of the quantitative work without collaborators. But, I would not be confident in their work without seriosuly thinking through how we want to create these models without my input about different theoretical reasons for including and excluding different variables. We need each other to get the questions and answers right.

Elizabeth Mertz

Bill, I appreciate your suggestions for opening up further discussion on this. Of course any such discussion should include the Law & Society Review as well --

William Henderson

Bob (and Beth and Stewart),

This is a great thread that is reminiscent of Howard Gillman's provocative guest post a few weeks ago when he talked about empirical methodology (quantitative and qualitative being the two main poles) being a function of the question being asked. Every time the quantitative versus qualitative (or "nonquantitative" as one astute commenter has called it) debate comes up, we come back to this sensible position. Yet the issue keeps cropping up.

One source of this friction is that most of us niche ourselves into methodologies that we are comfortable with. And there are professional payoffs for developing methodological expertise, usually developed by doing a series of increasingly nuanced quantitative or qualitative work. What Bob's post adds to the picture (through examples, not theory!) is how knowledge creation is enhanced by combining divergent methods. Of course, people that do these combined methods are neither fish nor fowl.

Perhaps JELS or Law & Social Inquiry (current or past editors are on this thread) can advance this norm by devoting editorial space that highlights the very best empirical work that combines quantitative and qualitative work--e.g., a 5-page survey essay by the editors.

One example that Bob omitted (out of humility) was his 1988 classic, Partners with Power, which combined quantitative and qualitative work in a case study of four large Chicago law firms. I can remember asking myself whether I would ever be able to write sociolegal scholarship at this level--it provided such a rich context. Further, it has a remarkably comtemporary feel 20 years after the last interview was complete.

So I guess the takeaway is this: NLR is (or ought to be) about effective creation of knowledge--capturing law in action; methods are a means to this end, not an end in themselves.

Stewart Macaulay

I like Michael's comment and agree with it. Nonetheless, I'm left with a question that he or someone else might be able to answer.

As part of writing a talk that I'm to give in October, I've tried to compare the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies with the new International Journal of Law in Context. In trying to consider what the social study of law is about, these two journals take very different approaches. Obviously there is room for both. But JELS emphasizes the quantitative while IJLC largely, but not enitrely, does the literary or philosophic turn.

But I wonder to what extent, if at all, is JELS open to qualitative studies? The editor's statement in the first issue can be read several ways. It says "JELS seeks to encourage, promote, and provide an impetus for the careful collection of empirical data and the dispassionate, rigorous testing of empirical hypotheses. The central purpose of JELS is to add to knowledge of the legal system based on observation or empirical analysis, including experimental analsis. . . " We could point to "rigorous testing of empirical hypothesis," or we could jump on the term "observation." What did the author mean by "rigorous?" What was his/her idea of what is "empirical?"

Nonetheless, if we look at all of the articles in Volume 1 (Vol. 2 is being bound and I can't get it now), we find tables of quantitative data and statistics as the only approach that I see in all of the articles (perhaps Lawrence Friedman's is an exception). Perhaps we could make a case that we need a journal that encourages more hard quantitative work based on state-of-the-art statistics. Perhaps more qualitative stuff should find a home in the Law & Society Review or Law and Social Inquiry. Perhaps the editors did not have a chance to consider qualitative approaches because no one submitted such papers. But I'm left with the question whether JELS favors quantitative methods and papers about questions that can be approached by using those methods. (Interestingly, after looking at the formal rules and the text in the journal and then counting types of articles that were published, we are still left wondering what the patterns we've found mean. We need an informant).

I hope that it is not necessary to say that I like quantitative work, and I am not afraid of statistics. But I am curious about the meaning of "empirical" in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies.

Michael Heise

Unlike many others, I must admit that I have not invested much time dwelling on Beth's interesting question. Here's why. First, I'm just not aware of any "ELS effort" at least as it specifically relates to "feelings about" qualitative research (or, for that matter, any other issue). Second, rather than debates about what constitutes "quantitative" or "qualitative" research, more interesting to me is the *quality* of the research and the appropriateness of the method(s) used to the research question, design, and data. Third, similar to Beth (and others), I've always been of the mind that different methodological approaches possess different blends of strengths and weaknesses and that none possess an exclusive lock on advancing knowledge. To be sure, certain research questions, designs, and data might lend themselves more appropriately to one methodology or another. But using "multiple methods," where appropriate and helpful, strikes me as a good idea. Finally, the scholarly marketplace of ideas will supply some filtering over time. Without knowing ex ante which particular methodology (if any) will survive the proverbial test of time, however, why not spread risk and learn from as many as possible?

Elizabeth Mertz

Bob's description fits with my experience as a linguistic anthropologist; I've found it very useful to combine different methods. Folks in my field regularly combine counting things (for example, how often particular linguistic features appear in the speech of people from different class backgrounds) with qualitative observation of the social significance of these variations. In my dissertation fieldwork, I performed a linguistic census in the two Gaelic-speaking communities in which I worked, in order to assess proficiency levels. But that would have been relatively meaningless if I hadn't also lived Cape Breton for over a year, learning to understand what different linguistic practices meant within the communities. The participant observation also aided my census work, because people were much more forthcoming after I'd been there a while. And I could better interpret small cues during the interviews so that I could encourage people to keep talking.

One question I've been wondering about is how the scholars who've been central to ELS feel about qualitative research. I'd be interested in hearing how receptive the ELS effort is to using / publishing / performing research gathered through qualitative methods (e.g., interviewing, participant observation, historical research, case studies).

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