The New Legal Realism
Authors: Elizabeth Mertz, University of Wisconsin Institute for Legal Studies, Emory University School of Law
Lawyers and law professors frequently draw on social science, and there are many social scientists who devote their careers to studying legal institutions and processes. Yet despite their apparent overlap in interests, professionals from these different fields may have difficulty communicating effectively because they in essence speak different “languages”. In recent years, the legal academy is evincing renewed interest in empirical research on law. However, there is little sustained attention to the problems involved in translating between the very different worlds of law and social science. Building from the considerable expertise of the ABF, the New Legal Realism Project aims at developing improved interdisciplinary collaboration among law professors, lawyers, and social scientists.
For the initial NLR conference, the ABF teamed up with the Institute for Legal Studies at University of Wisconsin, which also has a long history of leadership in the social science study of law. Subsequent conferences and presentations have combined forces with interested scholars at other institutions as well; a second conference was held at Emory University School of Law, and a third occurred at the University of Wisconsin in October 2007. The NLR Project encourages integration of multiple perspectives and methods in studying law: qualitative and quantitative, “bottom up” and “top down” studies of legal processes and institutions. This builds from a tradition of integrative multidisciplinary scholarship typical of the ABF. The first NLR conference generated a unique collaboration between a peer-reviewed journal and a law review, which jointly published the conference proceedings. “New Legal Realism Symposium: Is It Time for a New Legal Realism?” appeared as Vol. 2005, No. 2 of the Wisconsin Law Review, and the second conference publication appeared as a symposium in the ABF’s journal Law & Social Inquiry.
In addition to the NLR conferences, related presentations and seminars have been held at the ABF, the University of Wisconsin, and the Law and Society Association Meetings, and in plenary and other sessions at the American Association of Law Schools Meetings. Members of the ABF and Wisconsin Law School research faculties also participated in a symposium on New Legal Realism on the Empirical Legal Studies blog during 2006. NLR Projects members started a Collaborative Research Network under the aegis of the Law & Society Association devoted to "Realist and Empirical Legal Methods." The CRN has sponsored panels at the LSA Annual Meetings each year since it was started; in 2009 topics included combining qualitative and quantitative methods in sociolegal research, and empirical studies of global law.
The NLR Project webpage can be found at www.newlegalrealism.org