What Empirical Legal Scholars Do Best
Volume 87, No. 4, Summer 2015
By Robert M. Lawless, Max. L. Rowe Professor of Law, University of Illinois [PDF]

This Essay, prepared for the Symposium honoring the work of Professor Bill Whitford, makes the claim that empirical legal scholars have strengths as compared to scholars from other disciplines who also do socio-legal scholarship. Most significantly, empirical legal scholars have an in-depth knowledge of finegrained institutional detail that can unlock patterns that otherwise might remain hidden—Whitford’s work provides several examples. Empirical legal scholars also will tend to write about the legal system as such, helping us understand how the legal system works. Empirical legal scholars identify topics others might miss and often write scholarship that connects with policymakers. The claim here is not that empirical legal scholars are somehow “better”—indeed empirical legal scholars also have weaknesses. Rather, the claim is only that empirical legal scholars produce scholarship that is different, scholarship that expands our knowledge of how the world works, and hence scholarship that is useful.