Module rationale

In completing your first year of legal studies at Leeds you have acquired a range of discipline-specific skills in learning how to 'think' like a lawyer, including finding, understanding, and applying rules and principles in resolving legal problems. Year 1 was concerned mainly with the 'black letter' or doctrinal tradition of legal scholarship, whose purpose is to analyse and expound the law on any particular subject with reference to primary and secondary sources.

The aim of this Year 2 module is to develop further intellectual skills and expertise in research and critical evaluation appropriate to the second year, and to help prepare for the final year Dissertation. To this end we broaden the scope of legal study to include empirical legal research which focuses on how the law and legal institutions operate in their wider social, economic and political context.

Unlike doctrinal research which involves the study of law 'in the books', empirical legal research is based on the observation of law 'in society'. Empirical legal research is increasingly regarded as vital to improving our understanding of how the law works 'in the real world' (see Nuffield Inquiry on Empirical Legal Research, 2006). We explore how empirical methods are used to generate new knowledge and understanding of law in society in the subject areas with which you are already familiar: Tort, Contract, and Administrative Law.

Two types of empirical research in these fields may be distinguished. On the one hand, quantitative research (literally relating to 'quantity') generates 'hard' and 'objective' data expressed in the form of numbers, percentages, or numerical values, which may be manipulated in various ways through statistical analysis. On the other hand, qualitative research (literally relating to 'quality') produces 'soft' data in the form of words or pictures, whose meaning is more 'subjective' and dependent on interpretation.

While quantitative research typically involves the use of methods such as surveys and questionnaires, qualitative research is associated with methods such as interviews and participant observation. However, the quantitative/qualitative dichotomy should not be exaggerated. Much socio-legal research is likely to involve a combination of types of empirical research. And the same empirical method (for example the postal questionnaire) may be used to generate both quantitative and qualitative data.

Doctrinal research and empirical legal research should be regarded as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Many of the journal articles to which you will be referred in this module combine doctrinal and empirical socio-legal analysis. Both approaches may be critical of existing law and be accompanied by arguments for legal reform/revi- sion - whether by means of legislation or judicial development through the appellate courts.

A further common feature of legal and socio-legal research, whether doctrinal or empirical, is that its conduct is increasingly governed by codes of ethics designed to protect a range of individual and societal interests in the research process.

 
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