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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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Epilogue: horizons of legal research

Ernst Hirsch Ballin


Throughout this book we have emphasised the dynamic nature of law. We identified law as being a semantic system of rules – with institutions and decisions based on this system, and values and principles expressed in it – that is intended to guide human behaviour and orderly responses to non-compliance with these rules. Law is essentially embedded in processes for assessing specific situations of human behaviour, such that legal rules are interpreted in a way that makes them fit to be applied to such situations. The semantic nature of law is thus related to pragmatics. Following a legal rule does not leave the rule untouched; on the contrary, each iteration of application may widen, reduce or otherwise modify its significance.

These characteristics of the object of legal research underlie all the approaches discussed in the first three chapters: the modest varieties of jurisprudence or legal theory focusing on systematisation and guidance for interpretation, critical research aimed at deciphering semantic clues and unveiling underlying power relations, and empirical legal research focusing on observable facts in inter alia jurisgenerative processes.

Throughout these chapters we presupposed the object of research to be situated in an overseeable domain: we were not talking about ‘global law’, but rather about the variety of legal systems in the world.1 Legal research thus presents itself primarily as more or less microscopical in the sense that it deals with subsystems or fields of case law within a specific legal system. This is still the case in comparative...

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