Inside the Law School Classroom: Toward a New Legal Realist Pedagogy

28 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2010

See all articles by Elizabeth Mertz

Elizabeth Mertz

University of Wisconsin - Madison; American Bar Foundation

Date Written: December 2, 2010


Recent years have seen renewed interest in empirical research on law. Variously described as a "new legal realism" or as "empirical legal studies," this return to a focus on the social sciences in many ways echoes an earlier era of legal realism in American law " with some important differences. At the same time, there has also been growing interest in introducing possible reforms to the U.S. system of legal education. This article combines these two themes -- empirical research on law and careful re-examination of legal education. It reports on an empirical study of legal education (conducted at the American Bar Foundation). After discussing that study, the article considers the implications of the research for law teaching. How does law work when it translates information about society " from social science findings to the nitty-gritty details of plaintiffs' and defendants' lives? I argue for a more rigorous approach to conceptualizing and teaching this process of legal translation, and I contend that this kind of rigor should be central to any new legal realist or empirical project in the legal academy.

Keywords: law school education, legal language, new legal realism, empirical legal research

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

Mertz, Elizabeth Ellen, Inside the Law School Classroom: Toward a New Legal Realist Pedagogy (December 2, 2010). Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 60, p. 483, 2007; Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1143. Available at SSRN: or

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

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics