Is it Time for a New Legal Realism?
30 Pages Posted: 25 May 2006
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.
Keywords: new legal realism, empirical legal studies, legal pragmatism, interdisciplinary translation
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By Brian Leiter
By Brian Leiter