I've been mulling over David Stras's recent post about whether methodology drives the research question or vice versa. I think that this question points to one of the things that is particularly exciting about the current wave of interest in ELS. Communication, joint research projects, and other kinds of cross-fertilization is increasing between legal academics (trained as lawyers) and social scientists who study the legal system. These interdisciplinary discussions -- formal and informal -- carry with them the possibility of taking the best insights and tools from different disciplines to help us all understand the legal system better.
This enterprise is not always easy, of course. In part this is because, as David points out, the scholar who, like him (and me), is not a methodologist but is interested in using the method most appropriate to the current research question must invest time and energy into learning and applying relatively unfamiliar approaches. It is also difficult because, as he suggests, at least for junior scholars, there may be risks associated with a more eclectic style of scholarship: for example, risks of not having an easily summarized area of expertise, or risks of not having an easily evaluated body of scholarship.
I think that there is a third area of difficulty -- or of opportunity, depending on how one looks at it. For years, political scientists and legal academics have failed to speak to each other across "the Great Divide."as Gerald Rosenberg called it in a 2000 article in The Green Bag. Engaging in that conversation now requires a willingness to challenge sacred cows (on both sides of the divide) and a thick skin to endure the responses to such challenges. This can be daunting for well-established scholars; all the more so for junior academics.
One example of this dynamic can be found in 69 University of Chicago Law Review, winter 2002. The Law Review sponsored an "Exchange: Empirical Research and the Goals of Legal Scholarship." The opening piece, "The Rules of Inference," by Lee Epstein and Gary King, included criticisms of works by legal scholars, some of whom responded aggressively. (Epstein and King, in their reply, at 60 U Chi. L. Rev. 191, deplored and discussed the "fireworks" in those responses.)
But as I said, this is also an area of opportunity. Simply talking across the Great Divide is not enough. I think that ELS provides an opening for scholars in a variety of related fields to help each other understand the strengths and weaknesses of their own approaches and received wisdom.