What Is Empirical Legal Research?
There are many reasons that one would want to have accurate information about law, legal institutions, and related behavior of people and organizations. How often do people invoke legal processes to resolve various types of problems? Or, what explains the decisions made by judges? Or, does having a lawyer improve one’s chance of success in a legal proceeding? Or, do business enterprises flourish more in a common law system or in a civil law system? Although one might draw on personal experience or intuition to answer these questions, a better approach is to systematically collect information relevant to answering the question. The latter approach would constitute empirical legal research.
The concept of “empirical legal research” (ELR) is best understood by separating the elements of “empirical” and “legal.” The first term, “empirical,” concerns methodology broadly defined, and here refers to the process of assembling factual information or data. Empirical research, whether it pertains to law or something else, involves the systematic collection of information, ideally in a way that can, at least in theory, be replicated. The defining feature here is that the collection of information is carried out in a systematic way. Often the information collected is in the form of data,1 which may be taken to refer to a set of distinct pieces of information. However, it is not always the case that the systematically collected information is reducible to a set of data in this sense—but that does not mean that the information has...
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