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Is it Time for a New Legal Realism?


Howard S. Erlanger


University of Wisconsin Law School

Bryant Garth


University of California-Irvine; Southwestern Law School; American Bar Foundation

Jane E. Larson


University of Wisconsin Law School

Elizabeth Mertz


University of Wisconsin - Madison; American Bar Foundation

Victoria Nourse


Georgetown University Law Center

David B. Wilkins


Harvard Law School - Program on the Legal Profession


Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2005, No. 2, pp. 335-363, 2005
Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1015

Abstract:     
This Foreword introduces a Symposium issue of the Wisconsin Law Review devoted to the New Legal Realism Project. The NLR Project is aimed at developing a sophisticated interdisciplinary approach for translating social science in legal settings. One core focus is combining qualitative and quantitative research to yield a more accurate picture of law and how it operates - from the ground-level up as well as from the top down. Another feature is NLR's insistence that we deal more systematically with the issue of translation among disciplines, rather than assume (generally incorrectly) that we share identical assumptions, epistemologies, and practices. Problematizing translation implies a more careful assessment of the impact of the sociology of knowledge itself. The co-authors of this Foreword also ask about global dimensions to studying law. They call for a new form of optimistic engagement between social science research and legal policy issues, based in pragmatism (of several varieties).

The Foreword proceeds to demonstrate the pragmatic orientation of NLR by using two examples of the approach being advocated. The first example provided is Larson's research on the colonias, squatter settlements on the border between Texas and Mexico. This research moved from detailed ethnographic and in-person household survey research through policy recommendations and eventually to monitoring of the implementation of those recommendations. Wilkins' in-depth interviewing of black attorneys in large law firms forms the basis of the second example, which demonstrates how on-the-ground research can shed light on the complexities involved in integrating the legal profession. In a third section, the authors explore the possible role of pragmatist theory in formulating a new legal realism. This section is followed by a discussion of how interdisciplinary empirical research might be integrated into law teaching. A final section of the Foreword outlines the Symposium articles. The New Legal Realism Project received its start from a collaboration between the American Bar Foundation and the Institute for Legal Studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School, both long-time leaders in the effort to bring truly interdisciplinary empirical research to bear on legal problems.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 30

Keywords: new legal realism, empirical legal studies, legal pragmatism, interdisciplinary translation

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Date posted: May 25, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Erlanger, Howard S. and Garth, Bryant and Larson, Jane E. and Mertz, Elizabeth and Nourse, Victoria and Wilkins, David B., Is it Time for a New Legal Realism?. Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2005, No. 2, pp. 335-363, 2005; Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1015. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=896762

Contact Information

Howard S. Erlanger
University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )
975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States
608-263-7416 (Phone)
608-262-5485 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.wisc.edu/facstaff/biog.php?iID=266
Bryant Garth
University of California-Irvine ( email )
535A Administration
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States
949-824-7230 (Phone)
949-824-0495 (Fax)
Southwestern Law School ( email )
3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States
2137386710 (Phone)
American Bar Foundation ( email )
750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-988-6575 (Phone)
312-988-6579 (Fax)
Jane E. Larson
University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )
975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States
Elizabeth Ellen Mertz (Contact Author)
University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )
716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States
American Bar Foundation ( email )
750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
Victoria F. Nourse
Georgetown University Law Center ( email )
600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
David B. Wilkins
Harvard Law School - Program on the Legal Profession ( email )
23 Everett Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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