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Advanced Introduction to Legal Research Methods

Ernst Hirsch Ballin

Written by Ernst Hirsch Ballin, this original Advanced Introduction uncovers the foundations of legal research methods, an area of legal scholarship distinctly lacking in standardisation. The author shows how such methods differ along critical, empirical, and fundamental lines, and how our understanding of these is crucial to overcoming crises and restoring trust in the law. Key topics include a consideration of law as a normative language and an examination of the common objects of legal research.
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Empirical legal research

Ernst Hirsch Ballin

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is still widely unfamiliar to many authors on law, with many books and journal articles on jurisprudence seeming to have ignored the great strides made in this form of legal research since the final decades of the twentieth century. For a long time, efforts to deal with empirical legal research were obstructed by the common inability of law school researchers to work with statistical methods. This situation has since changed somewhat, albeit not yet sufficiently, thanks to the growing appreciation for interdisciplinarity. As a result, statistical methods are now an essential element in the collecting of data for describing and analysing legal phenomena,4 alongside qualitative methods such as ‘direct observation, in-depth interviews and analysis of documents’, which provide otherwise factual information about legal phenomena.5

Quantitative research is less suitable for intuitive approaches than traditional jurisprudence. It starts by developing a theory of observable occurrences defined by legal criteria (either speech acts or rule-guided behaviour) that can be measured. The next, sometimes cumbersome work consists of collecting data – possibly from existing court databases or other official compilations – and coding variables, followed by an analysis of the data collected. The final phase before results can be presented entails testing hypotheses and descriptive and causal inferences.6 Experiments may also be part of the research design.

In addition to doing their own work flawlessly, researchers have to accept their responsibility for observing the replication standard: ‘Another researcher should be able to understand, evaluate, build on, and reproduce the research...

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