Empirical Legal Research: Design and methods

Course content

The purpose of this course is to provide students with insight into the design and implementation of empirical research techniques. Due to what has been labelled an ‘empirical turn in legal scholarship,’ students and researchers within law are increasingly drawing on both quantitative and qualitative research methods in their research. In this wider context, empirical research methods, such as statistical inference and interviews, have played a pivotal role for new and emerging scholarship of a number of different legal fields. Therefore, it is crucial to enable students with the skills and competences to perform original studies that situate their research in current international scholarly currents and to address ongoing debates about the role of empirical work in legal science. Moreover, MA law students and legal practitioners increasingly have to compete on a Danish market in which empirical methods have become increasingly prevalent, especially to communicate with the professions connected with the phenomenon of digitalization. In these regard, legal professionals must be able to recognize when empirical research is useful and needs to be applied in legal modern practice. For example, they are required to build evidence that should be used to assist legislators in developing and ensuring well-founded public policies and to assist judges in the development of authoritative jurisprudence. All these tasks requires first the capability to identify new legal solutions to the many and complex issues emerging from new developments in information technology, data analytics and security, politics and policy-making, media, etc. Secondly, it require that tomorrow's lawyers, through training and education, master the new tools of digitalization and data analysis (e.g. statistics, machine learning, among others) to optimally contribute to the development of the legal profession. In the light of this developments in the profession, developing and analyzing evidence are critical skills to successful legal professionals (e.g. lawyers, judges, civil servants, etc.). As such, it is important to equip students with the necessary theoretical and practical tools in order to facilitate effective and coherent approaches to conducting empirical research.

 

The course is designed to provide the students the opportunity to work hands-on with their own MA thesis research question and how to plan and execute an original empirical based project on interview, survey and data analyses techniques. Students will receive feedback on their own research design and its implications. Moreover, the course will laid the basic theoretical foundations and offer the analytical tools the students and researches to participate in more advance methods courses at PhD level. As result, master students will learn how to frame the theoretical foundation of their research MA project, how to distinguish between methodologies, and how to identify and choose research methods relevant to their main subject(s) of research inquiry.

 

The course is divided into three parts:

  • The first part introduces the students to the current debates on the use of empiric in legal research.
  • The second part will present the students the main concepts and definitions necessary for learning, discussion and developing an empirical legal research, such as: research problem, question, hypothesis, dependent and independent variable, correlation and causation, complementarity and triangulation, etc. These two sessions provide the students with the analytical tools to follow and develop discussions on empirical legal research design and methods.
  • The third part of the course reviews and train the students on the most common empirical legal methods and knowledge for implementing legal reseach but also for the use of digitalized data like automated text analysis, network analysis and topic modeling. Each method will comprise diverse sessions where the method is introduced and discussed. After that, the student will be trained on how to perform this specific technique at a basic level of research.

 

This course is part of iCourts Excellence Programme (iEP) – International Law and Courts in a Global World, please see 'Remarks' below.

Learning outcome

This course will contribute to the students’ competence profile in the following terms.

A)  In terms of knowledge, the student will be able to recognize and critically evaluate the different stages of an empirical research design and the diversity of empirical research techniques (e.g. interviews, survyes, network analysis) and approaches for carrying legal research, their advantages and challenges.

 

B) Within this framework, the students in terms of skills will be able:

(1) To identify empirical methods and data approapriate to legal research;

(2) To collect and synthesize legal information and data and understand the ethical implication of data collection and analysis;

(3) To articulate and develop research design and protocols for legal research;

(4) To work independently at a basic level with different methods and collaborate with other peers in the development of these capabilities and skills in the framework of groups’ presentations and discussions.

 

C) Finally, based upon this knowledge and skills, the student will analyse, contrast and evaluate the advantages and difficulties of Empirical Legal Research. As a result the student will be able:

(1) To assess the relevance and quality of research questions.

(2) To critically reflect on the process of data collection and analysis;

(3) To present and write reseach findings in a systematic manner;

(4) To enable the student to carry out independent empirical legal research;

(5) To increase his/her analytical capacity to innovate and integrate data analysis into legal thinking;

(6) To improve students’ understanding of the relevance of empirical methods for understanding the law, affecting his/her ability to adapt and meet clients demands and to understand the necessities of the new players in the digitalization global network (e.g. lawyers, firms, policy-makers, civil society, etc.).

Students are expected to read the texts and participate actively in class. To improve the learning process, the course uses innovative pedagogical techniques for training on methods and techniques. The following instructional strategies combine theoretical discussion with training sessions, such as:

a) Methodological learning: The lecturer will train students in the application of these techniques in several methodological training session.

b) Evidence analysis exercises: The students will be asked to analyze diverse empirical evidence using the quantitative and qualitative instruments techniques learnt at the methodological sessions.

c) Research methods implementation with presentations and written papers: where the students reflect on the best method for investigating a specific legal object of study.

Knowledge and interest on legal methods and research writing is an advantage.

Please observe, this course is part of iCourts Excellence Programme (iEP) – International Law and Courts in a Global World. Students who sign up for the iEP become iCourts Student Fellows and will get a unique opportunity to become part of the research environment of iCourts – the only centre of excellence in law in Denmark. The iEP is open to all Danish and foreign BA and MA students at the Faculty. All iCourts courses may be taken as stand-alone courses but only students who complete a total of at least 45 ECTS courses offered by the centre or of 30 ECTS such courses plus write their MA-thesis with an iCourts Supervisor will receive a certificate confirming their participation in the iEP. Read more about the programme here: https:/​/​jura.ku.dk/​icourts/​education/​excellence-programme/​

Written
Oral
Individual
Collective
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
ECTS
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Individual written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Seminar
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 356,5
  • English
  • 412,5