Over at Prawfsblawg, Ron Wright has an absolutely terrific post on constructive steps toward a legal profession that can take full advantage of empirical research and statistics. The comments are also worth reading including a comment on the value of a law school stats course.
I have really enjoyed my time here at the ELS blog. For my final post, I want to give a plug for what
I hope will soon be a mainstream law school course and an important area of research
for law professors: “The economics and sociology of the legal profession.”
In 2004, I taught a course at Indiana entitled “The Law
Firm as a Business Organization” (website and syllabus here.) In preparing the course, I discovered that the
socio-legal literature—much of it empirical—is an inexhaustible supply of high
quality materials for showing students (a) the economic and social structure of
the legal profession, and (b) how it has changed, and will continue to change,
over time. In short, existing social science can be used to
help students make more careful, informed career decisions. Similarly, numerous alumni, several of whom
visited my class, have expressed a strong interest in empirical work on lawyers. (Amidst the rapid pace of change, that should
not be surprising.) With the aid of ELS, here is an opportunity for the academy
to re-engage with the profession.
To further this agenda, I have organized an email list
of approximately 100 scholars from a wide array of disciplines who have written
in a field I dub “The Economics and Sociology of the Legal Profession.” This year, the list produced eight
panels for the 2006 Law & Society Annual Meeting in Baltimore (July 6-9). I hope many ELS Blog readers will be
interested in attending. Please contact
me if you want to be added to the email list. Eventually, it may turn into a Law & Society Collaborative Research
As a follow-up to one of Bill's previous posts, I would appreciate comments on enrollment information for research methodology courses taught within law schools. I'll just stipulate to the fact that folks approach such a course in various ways, from different perspectives, and with different goals. Because my hunch is that enrollment in such courses (however taught) is highly dependent upon a particular law school's culture, specific professors, schedule grid conflicts, etc., what I expect I'll hear is that enrollment experiences vary considerably. Indeed, having taught such a course (the identical methods course) at two different law schools I can report notably different enrollments (and I'm pretty sure my pedagogy was relatively constant).
Over at PrawfsBlawg Orly Lobel (San Deigo) provoked an interesting discussion (here) about the efficacy of creating a Ph.D. in law (presumably run by law schools). Incident to Sarah's earlier post about law schools' increased appetite for Ph.D.s (here), I am curious about folks' take on Lobel's argument that (some) law schools should contemplate gearing up for a Ph.D. program in law (as well as Lobel's point that such a development could have "transformative effects" on law schools). As a distinct--though related--aside, recall Vanderbilt's recent hiring of Kip Viscusi (and Joni Hersch) and decision to create a Ph.D. program in Law and Economics (described here).
Over the past week or so I have been slogging through a
stack of texts I am considering adopting for the introductory course on
research methods (which includes some epistemology of science, research design,
basic statistics) taught in my department each fall for first-year graduate
students. This is the first time I will be teaching this course so the choice
of text(s) looms particularly large. And, to complicate matters, we have
recently added an an introduction to formal modeling course in the second semester
for our graduate students, which they will take in addition to a course on
statistics (beyond that which is covered in the first-semester course). So, I
am very cognizant that what I cover in the first-semester course needs to give
students preparation for not one but two courses they will take in their second
semester. (I expect that neither of my colleagues who will be teaching those
second-semester courses will find the students as prepared as they would like
them to be but, being good natured folks, I am sure they will be patient with
both the students and me.) I think that the sort of issues with which I am
grappling in (re)designing this course are issues that speak more broadly to
what it is that those interested in empirical legal studies care about. Let me
(hopefully) provoke a discussion by offering a two guiding principles on which
I am relying:
The book The Supreme Court in the American Legal System (Segal/Spaeth/Benesh 2005) is reviewed by Richard Pacelle (Georgia Southern) in the recent Perspectives on Politics (Vol. 4, No. 1, Mar. 2006). While the short review recognizes that the book "is designed to be a less methodologically sophisticated analysis," the review questions the book's usefulness--"this will be a book in search of a market"--because Pacelle "suspect[s] instructors will opt for a more nuanced treatment of judicial decision making." Pacelle's hypothesis may be correct; but perhaps the book might also be filling a gap in the market. For example, to my knowledge, it is the only text on judicial process/behavior that includes a website with empirical data and commands (in SPSS) to let students replicate the analyses presented in the book.
It seems that judicial politics/judicial decision-making/American legal system/Supreme Court seminars involve professors and students with a wide range of methodological interest and expertise. While the ELS Blog discussed book selection in the classroom before, no suggestions were made about what judicial behavior books should be used for different types of courses with students and professors of varying interests and training, e.g., graduate versus undergraduate students; students with versus without statistical training. (A hierarchy was successfully created for statistical software.) I've seen Robert McCloskey's The American Supreme Court assigned for both undergraduate non-empirical courses and law school empirical seminars on the courts, with most graduate judicial politics seminars in law and the social sciences assigning The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited.
What is the hierarchy of foundational judicial decision-making texts in terms of methodological sophistication? Or, more specifically, what should one assign law students (or upper level undergraduates) with no previous statistics training in a judicial decision-making seminar?
As a follow-up to Jason’s post about teaching
empiricism, it could be a helpful service of the ELS Blog to compile a list of
the research methodology courses taught within law schools. Naturally, traditional legal research courses do not count for these purposes. (We don’t need a list of 180 first-year legal research courses, even if they really are empirical.)
Anyone who would like to help along the process of compiling this list
can post a comment or e-mail me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org), preferably with a link to a course
description or even a syllabus. Since course catalogs do not always reflect what is actually being taught, these responses would be of great help in figuring out what is really going on within the law schools. I’ll post the list sometime soon and update it as needed.
One increasingly frequent response to colleagues and students who approach me periodically with an array of statistical and methodological questions is to alert them to a wonderfully rich resource in the form of a site hosted by UCLA's Academic Technology Services group. Many of its resources are online and might assist many with questions ranging from the general to the software package specific (e.g., Stata, SPSS). The site (here) is certainly worth a quick visit for anyone interested.
I teach a seminar on judicial decision-making that focuses on the courts as political institutions, emphasizing the social science literature on the courts. An issue often batted around by those who teach these judicial behavior courses is what major books should be assigned. I think two are a must read:
(1) The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited by Segal & Spaeth
(2) The Choices Justices Make by Epstein & Knight
I also like to assign Rosenberg's The Hollow Hope.
The real difficulty in teaching a judicial behavior course is helping students understand empirical methodologies. Thus, I asked the following question to a number of colleagues: Can anyone recommend an introductory text for students who are trying to better understand the basic statistics and regression analyses used in the many empirical papers on judicial decision-making? It seems there are few options. I received the following suggestions:
Marija Norusis' SPSS Guide to Data Analysis
Andy Field’s Discovering Statistics
Paul Allison's Multiple Regression : A Primer
I have not used any of these, and instead have explained basic statistical analyses using particularly accessible and easy to understand articles. Does anyone have any other suggestions? Comments are open.