Judging the Quality of Legal Research: A Qualified Response to the Demand for Greater Methodological Rigour
20 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2014
Date Written: September 9, 2014
Legal academics’ drive over the last 40 years to broaden their research horizons has exposed the quality of their research to extra-disciplinary scrutiny. This is particularly true of doctoral research, where examiners from other disciplines are increasingly being used. But disciplinary outsiders are judging the quality of legal research in other settings as well, including the assessment of competitive grant applications and the peer review of pieces submitted to interdisciplinary journals. This article argues that legal academics urgently need to respond to these developments, but that the way they respond depends on the distinction between traditional doctrinal research and the other types of legal research that have emerged over the last 40 years. The challenge in the former case is to defend doctrinal research against the charge that, as a form of applied social science research, its practitioners should conform to the research standards applicable in that set of disciplines. A proper understanding of the purpose and methods of doctrinal research suggests that this charge is not well made out, and that there is a strong case for arguing that the quality of doctrinal research should be assessed according to its own criteria. In the case of the other types of legal research that have emerged over the last 40 years, legal academics do need to conform to the research standards of the disciplines on which they are drawing. This is especially true of the particular variant of socio-legal research that legal academics produce, which mixes the internal perspective of the trained lawyer with the external perspective of the social sciences. But it is also true of the other main categories of legal research, including 'law and __' research, legal philosophy, comparative legal research and critical approaches.
Keywords: legal research, methodology
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