Center for Empirical Research in the Law

Quantitative social scientific information is playing an increasingly important role in litigation. In order to become an effective advocate, it is necessary for lawyers to be able to understand, present, and rebut arguments based on empirical legal research. As a result of this need, affiliated CERL faculty offer a number of courses to provide these skills to Washington University law students. CERL is always looking for law students interested in working as research assistants. Interested students should contact the CERL Director ( email ).

Courses planned for the 2007-2008 academic year include:
Courts And Judicial Decision-Making
Pauline Kim ( site )
Fall 2007
This seminar will examine the structures of the judicial systems in this country and explore various theories about how judges make decisions. We will consider such issues as how judges are selected, what is the institutional context in which they operate and what incentives and constraints does that context place on their decision-making. In addition, we will consider what motivates judicial decision-making: are judges political actors? Are they motivated by ideology? political loyalties? ambition? or their life experiences? What evidence exists to support or refute each of these theories? Does it make a difference if a judge has life tenure or is elected? We will examine these questions by focusing on the available social science literature studying court decision-making. Our emphasis will be on the lower federal courts in the judicial hierarchy-federal trial and appellate courts and state courts, rather than the United States Supreme Court. This class will meet regularly to discuss assigned readings for roughly the first 2/3 of the semester. During this phase of the course, students may be asked to write several short papers (approximately 2 pages) responding to the assigned readings and/or to prepare discussion questions in advance of class. During the last 1/3 of the semester, the class will not meet, allowing time to research and write a paper, approximately 15 pages in length, on a topic agreed on with the instructor. Students will be expected to turn in an outline, rough draft and final version of the paper. Attendance and preparation are required. Laptops computers are not permitted during class. (This seminar is not graded anonymously because the professor works with students on their writing projects throughout the semester.)
Empirical Research in Commercial Law Seminar
Lynn M. LoPucki ( site )
Fall 2007
The principal objectives of this seminar are to teach empirical research and writing skills. Each student will do a simple empirical study from already existing data regarding a topic in the field of secured transactions, bankruptcy, or business associations. The student will then write a paper of approximately 30-40 pages, double-spaced, in law review format, explaining the findings. Each student must submit a study design, first draft, and final revised version of the paper. Completion of, or concurrent enrollment in, a course covering one of the three subjects is strongly recommended. No knowledge of statistics is required. This seminar is not blind graded because the professor works with students on their writing projects throughout the semester. This seminar will meet as a group only once during the semester. Each student will meet with Professor LoPucki early in the semester to discuss topics. In addition, students will consult with Professor LoPucki as necessary on the progress of their research and writing. His course evaluations from UCLA can be found linked to his faculty profile at http://law.wustl.edu/faculty/index.asp?id=5615 .
Social Scientific Research for Lawyers
Andrew Martin ( site )
Fall 2007
The purpose of this course is to provide law students with the ability to conduct and evaluate empirical legal research. By empirical legal research I mean scholarship "based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation rather than theory or pure logic." The course will cover the process of social scientific inquiry, research design, and elementary data analysis. The course grade will be based on the evaluation of weekly written assignments. (This course is not graded anonymously because the professor works with students on written work throughout the semester.)
The Politics of the U.S. Supreme Court
Andrew Martin ( site )
Spring 2008
Course description not yet available

Past courses on empirical legal research include the following:
Seminar: Empirical Inquiries in Civil Litigation
Margo Schlanger ( site )
Spring 2006
Students in this course will conduct an empirical investigation into some (small) aspect of the currently hot question in judicial administration, Where have all the trials gone? The question is provoked by a sharp trend; the absolute number of trials has declined by 60% over the past 20 years, even as court filings have risen. The entire federal court system conducted fewer than 4600 civil trials in 2002; only 1.8% of filings were resolved by trial. Hypotheses abound to explain the decline; each student will pick a hypothesis and try to make at least some headway in testing it, using quantitative or qualitative data (chiefly systematic case filings and terminations data, individual case dockets, and interviews). Students will have ready access to a comprehensive civil case dataset maintained by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, as well as to docket sheets that enable closer review. Some or all students will also be able to work with at least one federal district court, to investigate trends and their causes in that limited setting. As this description makes clear, the seminar will revolve entirely around student papers. We will meet several times in the beginning of the semester and then as needed, first to discuss the extant evidence of disappearing trials and the available explanations, and then, once students pick paper topics, to deal with both substantive and methodological questions. In addition, several individual meetings with the instructor are required and a teaching assistant will be available to help students substantially with quantitative methods and computing. Topics for papers will be chosen by the students, but with a good deal of guidance and input of the instructor. In total, students must submit a topic statement, a research plan, a first draft, and a final, revised version of the paper. The instructor will provide feedback at each of these stages. (Seminars are not graded anonymously because the professor works with students on their writing project throughout the semester.) 3 units.
Law and Politics
Lee Epstein ( site ), Andrew Martin ( site ), and Nancy Staudt ( site )
Spring 2006
This seminar will focus on the interplay between law and politics; we will organize the seminar as workshop and will focus on contemporary problems and issues. For purposes of discussion, we will divide the semester into 7 two-week blocks. In the first week of each block, we will discuss a paper authored by a nationally well-known scholar and in second week we will invite the scholar to campus to present his/her work to the class for further discussion. As far as substance, we will focus on quantitative and not qualitative studies in the context of law and politics. Students will write 7 short papers addressing the issues we discuss in class; to assure its interdisciplinary nature, the seminar will be open to both law students and graduate students in the social sciences. (Seminars are not graded anonymously because the professor works with students on their writing project(s) throughout the semester.)
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