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A Researchers’ Perspective on Empirical Legal Research Methods (LAW-RS-RESMET-23)


Department LAW
Course category LAW Seminar - 3 credits
Course type Course
Academic year 2023-2024
Credits 3 (EUI Law credits)
  • Eftychia Constantinou (PhD Researcher) Hubert Bekisz (PhD Researcher) Alexandra Nouvel (PhD Researcher) Greta Spanò (PhD Researcher)
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  Course materials

26/02/2024 10:00-12:00 @ Sala dei Cuoi

05/03/2024 10:00-12:00 @ Sala dei Cuoi

08/03/2024 10:00-12:00 @ Sala dei Cuoi

13/03/2024 10:00-12:00 @ Sala dei Cuoi

19/03/2024 10:00-12:00 @ Sala dei Cuoi


First and second year researchers as well as LLM researchers can gain 3 credits by attending one of the researcher-taught seminars in each academic year; they can also register for and attend further researcher-taught seminars without gaining credits.

This course aims to introduce researchers to data-based approaches in legal studies as well as to share our experience in using empirical methods in our own doctoral theses. In doing so, we aspire to enable participants to integrate such methods in their research. The course adopts a researcher’s perspective in approaching empirical legal research, which highlights the obstacles frequently faced by researchers when first engaging in empirical legal research.

This course is intended as a follow-up to the research design courses offered by the Law Department (i.e., Research Design for Empirical Legal and Socio-Legal Studies and Social Science Methods for Empirical Legal Studies), which introduce researchers to a wide range of research methods and tools for answering empirical questions. The focus is on the steps following the research design, namely collecting, coding and analysing data for the purposes of conducting an empirical legal study.
Contrary to research design courses with a broad focus describing a wide range of research methods, this course focuses on the application of four distinct empirical legal methods, both qualitative and quantitative in nature, which we use in our theses. Furthermore, the course offers a hand-on approach to empirical legal research through ‘lab’ sessions to instruct participants on how to use the available tools and software to organise and analyse the data sourced through empirical legal research. The overarching aim of the course is to share with other researchers the tips and tricks we wish we knew when we first started using empirical research methods to research legal questions.

From our first-hand experience with empirical legal research methods, the course seeks to demystify research methods traditionally used in other doctrines and guide legal researchers in using them, whether in isolation or to supplement doctrinal research. It could therefore also be of interest to researchers from other departments (e.g. SPS and ECO), who are familiar with data-based research and have an interest in deploying such methods to study law and courts.
The first part of the course concentrates on qualitative methods in legal research.

The course begins by looking into the oft-used method of interviewing and will draw from experience to share best practices in terms of engaging with practitioners or experts in the legal field and then mainstreaming these findings into text while guaranteeing anonymity if need be. We will address issues such as finding the right stage of research to conduct the interviews, how to ask certain questions, which questions to ask, and how to interact with the subjects, especially on delicate matters. The underlying narrative here is that although time-consuming, interviews as a form of fieldwork can be a great opportunity to discover unsuspected aspects of one’s research, allowing for a new perspective on one’s topic, sometimes with surprising results.
Subsequently, we will discuss within-case analysis methods, including case studies and process tracing. Case study is a research approach that involves the in-depth study of a particular case or set of cases. In a case study, the researcher examines a real-life situation, event, or phenomenon in detail to gain a deep understanding of its characteristics, complexities, and underlying processes. The researcher collects data from a variety of sources, such as interviews, observations, documents and analyses the data to identify patterns, themes, and relationships. Case study methodology can be used for exploring a new area of research, testing a theory, or evaluating the effectiveness of an intervention. Process tracing is commonly used to investigate causal mechanisms in social science research. It involves examining a particular phenomenon, and then tracing the process through which it unfolds over time. This approach is useful for identifying the underlying mechanisms that drive social phenomena and helps researchers develop more nuanced theories of how the social world works.
The second part swifts the focus to quantitative methods.

The toolbox traditionally used by legal scholars becomes increasingly depleted given the unprecedented rate at which empirical scholarship on law and courts generates datasets. Considering this, the course introduces the concept of large data and demonstrates in practice how research methods ‘borrowed’ from other fields can supplement doctrinal research. During the course, researchers will explore how they can effectively and efficiently collect, code, and analyse quantitative data on law and courts. The CJEU is used as an example to illustrate the promise of using quantitative data on key features such as the profiles of judges, submissions of third-parties, citations to advance understanding on judicial behaviour. The course will also introduce selected tools which can be used to manage and analyse large data such as R.
Lastly, this course introduces law researchers to quantitative methods of text analysis. In particular, the course will focus on corpus linguistics. Corpus linguistics can serve as a method to determine meaning in different legal genres (normative, interpretive, applied), as well as to uncover patterns of language uses in law. During this course, researchers will learn the theoretical aspects of corpus linguistics, by the illustration of the key concepts of corpus methods, as well as the role of language in legal texts, and more generally, in the law. To do so, researchers will familiarise with the techniques, the main tools and software for corpus analysis. 

First, Second & Third Term: registration from 25 to 28 September

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Page last updated on 05 September 2023

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