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Law and Method


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    Quantitative empirical research into legal decisions must be conducted using statistical tools that are appropriate for the data involved. Court decisions are one example of a domain where the data is intrinsically hierarchical (i.e., multilevel), since decisions are made on individual cases by decision-makers in courts located across geographical (or jurisdictional) areas. Past research into court decisions has often either neglected higher level variables or incorrectly used single-level statistical models to analyze multilevel data. The lack of a clear understanding about when and why multilevel statistical models are required may have contributed to this situation. In this paper, we identify the problems of estimating single-level models on hierarchically structured data, and consider the advantages of conducting multilevel analyses under these circumstances. We use the example of criminal sentencing research to illustrate the arguments for the use of multilevel models and against a single-level approach. We also highlight some issues to be addressed in future sentencing studies.


Mandeep Dhami

Ian Keith Belton
Redactioneel

Access_open Introduction Special Issue Stumbling Blocks in Empirical Legal Research

Auteurs Gijs van Dijck en Sanne Taekema

Gijs van Dijck

Sanne Taekema

    This article examines the main assumptions and theoretical underpinnings of case study method in legal studies. It considers the importance of research design, including the crucial roles of the academic literature review, the research question and the use of rival theories to develop hypotheses and the practice of identifying the observable implications of those hypotheses. It considers the selection of data sources and modes of analysis to allow for valid analytical inferences to be drawn in respect of them. In doing so it considers, in brief, the importance of case study selection and variations such as single or multi case approaches. Finally it provides thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses associated with undertaking socio-legal and comparative legal research via a case study method, addressing frequent stumbling blocks encountered by legal researchers, as well as ways to militate them. It is written with those new to the method in mind.


Lisa Webley

    Sensitive interviews involve emotionally difficult topics which require participants to face issues that are deeply personal and possibly distressing. This paper draws together reflections concerning how researchers manage the challenges of conducting sensitive interviews, including the author’s own reflections concerning interviewing clinical negligence claimants. First, it examines the ethical guidelines that regulate sensitive research, and the challenges of obtaining informed consent and maintaining confidentiality. Ethical guidelines, however, provide limited assistance for ensuring the emotional care of research participants, and we also consider challenges that are not usually formally regulated. These include preparing for the interview, and then ensuring the emotional care of participants both during and after the interview itself. Sensitive research also raises deeper ethical issues concerning the negotiation of relations between researcher and participant, especially when this relationship is unequal. Finally, while previous research has generally focused on the need to take emotional care of research participants, less attention has been given to the emotional needs of researchers. It is argued that support systems for researchers are too often ad hoc, and that providing support is often not a priority of granting bodies, grant holders or supervisors, and that formal systems need to be put in place.


Angela Melville
Flinders Law School, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia. Email: angela.melville@flinders.edu.au.

Darren Hincks
Flinders Law School, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia.

    In this article I argue that the major issue in taxonomies of interdisciplinary research is the problem of authority. In a project on the needs of Aboriginal Australians in inheritance, involving interdisciplinary research using law (in both common law and customary law form) and anthropology, issues of translateability and truth/validity arose. Issues for the Aboriginal people included problems of identifying the correct kin, dealing with the body, and protecting customary law information and secrecy, all matters which the customary law could handle but which were not recognised by Australian common law. Because the characterization of these matters in law is often characterized as a problem of authority the article explores the various different ways forms of authority in law and anthropology exist and how they might clash. Because the anthropology concerned was about Aboriginal Customary Law there seemed to be a double problem of authority which needed to be resolved in order to ensure that the connections between the disciplines were clear and the inheritance issues could be resolved.


Prue Vines
Professor, Director of First Year Studies, Co-Director, Private Law Research & Policy Group Faculty of Law, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Email: p.vines@unsw.edu.au.

    With more and more information disclosed online and with open-access policies on the rise, legal academic research is becoming more accessible. The potential impact of this development is enormous, particularly in areas or jurisdictions where offline information is scarce and where access to subscription-based journals or books is limited or non-existing. Because the current literature lacks materials that guide researchers who conduct legal research while relying on open access, this article discusses where and how to find and select relevant academic books, journal articles, and working papers in the open access world. The resources, selection tools, and search strategies explained in this article particularly focus on finding open access sources in English. Consequently, this article assists researchers who rely on materials that are freely accessible because they lack access to books and to subscription-based journals outside of their own jurisdiction. The section on search strategy is relevant for researchers who aim to identify sources in an effective and efficient way.


Gijs van Dijck
Tilburg University. The author thanks Lukas Dziedzic, Marie-Claire Menting, Zihan Niu, Marnix Snel, Eric Tjong Tjin Tai and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on a previous version of this article.Parts of section 2 and section 3 can also be found in Gijs van Dijck, ‘Eerste hulp bij juridisch bronnenonderzoek: waar te zoeken en hoe relevante bronnen te selecteren op het internet?’ (2015) Surinaams Juristenblad 29 (in Dutch). For a general overview of research strategies, see https://olinuris.library.cornell.edu/content/skill-guides (last accessed 26 April 2016).

    Legal novices are generally not very well educated in the do’s and don’ts of empirical legal research. This article lays out the general principles and discusses the most important stumbling blocks on the way forward. The presentation starts at the formulation of a research question. Next, the methodology of descriptive research (operationalization and measurement, sampling and selection bias) is briefly addressed. The main part of the article discusses the methodology of explanatory research (causal inference, experimental and quasi-experimental research designs, statistical significance, effect size). Medical malpractice law is used as a central source of illustration.


Ben C.J. van Velthoven
Associate professor of Law and Economics at Leiden Law School. I wish to thank Nienke van der Linden, Ali Mohammad and Charlotte Vrendenbargh from Leiden Law School and two anonymous reviewers and the editors of this journal for helpful comments on earlier drafts.
Artikel

Access_open On Experiments in Empirical Legal Research

Auteurs Prof. dr. Kees van den Bos en Mr. Liesbeth Hulst B.Sc., M.Sc.
Samenvatting

    The current paper presents some observations on experiments in empirical legal research. The paper notes some strengths and weakness of the experimental method. The paper distinguishes between experiments run in controlled laboratory settings and experiments conducted in field settings and notes the different goals the different types of experiments generally have. The paper identifies important stumbling blocks that legal researchers who are new to setting up experiments may face and proposes that focusing the research in a constructive and independent way is important to overcome these problems. The necessity of running multiple studies to overcome other problems are discussed as well. When conducted in this way, experiments may serve an important role in the field of empirical legal studies and may help to further explore the exciting issues of law, society, and human behavior.


Prof. dr. Kees van den Bos

Mr. Liesbeth Hulst B.Sc., M.Sc.