Following New Lights: Critical Legal Research Strategies as a Spark for Law Reform in Appalachia

86 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2015 Last revised: 22 Apr 2020

See all articles by Nicholas Stump

Nicholas Stump

West Virginia University - College of Law

Date Written: March 15, 2015


The nascent “critical legal research” movement applies the constellation of critical theory to the American legal research regime. Work in this discourse has unpacked the means through which commercial print and online legal resources (e.g., Westlaw and Lexis) insidiously channel the efforts of legal researchers, essentially predetermining research outcomes. Although legal research commonly is conceived as a normatively neutral paradigm, such commercial homogenizing agents (paired with traditional methods of legal analysis) in fact reflect and perpetuate society’s dominant interests.

As grounded in the existing literature, this Article outlines novel strategies that may together constitute one potential version of a critically reconstructed legal research process. The overarching aim of this reconstructed process is to jumpstart the development of progressive law reform initiatives. Such key strategies include a more targeted utilization of commercial and non-commercial legal resources, an increased practitioner reliance upon a wide range of theoretical materials (i.e., as potential touchstones for innovation), and the cultivation of synergistic brainstorming sessions involving grassroots activists and other diverse constituents.

This Article explores the critical legal research process in the specific context of Appalachian law reform efforts. Currently, mountaintop removal mining is wreaking social, economic, and environmental devastation on the region. In applying the critical research process to the sociolegal framework governing mountaintop removal, it becomes clear that core feminist methodologies — and the ecofeminism movement, in particular — may yet offer crucial insights that can contribute greatly to reform efforts. This illustrative application of critical research strategies demonstrates the transformative potential of the novel reformist practice.

Keywords: Critical Legal Research, Critical Legal Theory, Feminist Methodologies, Ecofeminism, Social Ecology, Environmental Justice, Legal Research, Legal Research Pedagogy, Legal Analysis, Appalachia, Appalachian Law Reform, Mountaintop Removal, Fracking, Intra-Systemic Law Reform, Systemic Law Reform

JEL Classification: K1, K2, K3, K4

Suggested Citation

Stump, Nicholas, Following New Lights: Critical Legal Research Strategies as a Spark for Law Reform in Appalachia (March 15, 2015). 23 Am. U. J. Gender Soc. Pol'y & L. 573 (2015), WVU Law Research Paper No. 2015-9, Available at SSRN:

Nicholas Stump (Contact Author)

West Virginia University - College of Law ( email )

101 Law School Drive
Morgantown, WV West Virginia 26506
United States

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