Law in the Real World

'Law in the Real World' cover via UCL websiteHot on the heels of the Carneige Foundation‘s report on Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (which I have already discussed on this blog) comes Law in the Real World: Improving our Understanding of How Law Works (pdf) by Prof Dame Hazel Genn of UCL. It was launched in London at the British Academy on 6 November 2006 last (and welcomed here and here) – sorry I’ve only come upon it now. It makes for important, if uncomfortable, reading: its importance is self-evident, but it is discomfiting because of how little of this type of research is being undertaken in Ireland in the kind of systematic manner advocted in this report.

The research was undertaken by UCL’s Centre for Empirical Legal Research as part of the Nuffield Inquiry on Empirical Legal Research funded by the Nuffield Foundation, in response to growing concern about a perceived dwindling of capacity to undertake rigorous empirical research in law. From the conclusion:

Whatever institutional support and encouragement may be provided at national, university or departmental level, success must be measured by the creation of a younger [generation] of researchers with the interest, enthusiasm and skills to undertake empirical legal research. If the recommendations made in this report are accepted, there will be fresh opportunities for obtaining fellowships to develop intellectual capital and to train a new generation of postgraduates interested in empirical legal studies. …

What the Inquiry has tried to do is show that there are some achievable steps that can be taken to improve the chance of creating this younger generation. Some of these steps are conceptual: we argue that it is important now to reframe the issue as one of capacity to carry out empirical research, not as one of ‘socio-legal studies’. What is missing is not text-based studies that allude to law’s social context, but studies of how legal processes, outcomes or structures actually are in the ‘real world’. Only that kind of empirical study will give us a broader and deeper understand of law outside law books. … The Inquiry’s view is that some fairly immediate and concrete steps could yield results. …

Other steps are longer term suggestions and will require some planning, for example changes to the undergraduate curriculum and recruitment of post-graduates. … All of the medium and longer term steps, such as new research funding initiatives, post-doctoral awards, or changes to the pattern of ESRC-supported research training, will require further engagement and discussion with the affected bodies. Funders like the ESRC and the Nuffi eld Foundation are likely to continue to have some brokering role, but so too, we suggest, should learned societies and some of the academic leaders like Vice-Chancellors and others.

Of course, Irish Law Schools do undertake empirical legal research (see, for example, Ivana Bacik, Cathryn Costello and Eileen Drew, Gender InJustice ((TCD, 2003), which is the culmination of a study carried out on women in the legal profession, with funding from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Minister’s speech here) and the British Council, and published by the School of Law, TCD), or the work of UCD‘s Institute of Criminology), just not in the sustained and integrated fashioned argued for in this report. As Irish Law Schools adapt to any new environment created in the aftermath of an implementation of the Competition Authority‘s Final Report on the Legal Professions, the arguments and conclusions in Law in the Real World will be equally valid on this side of the Irish Sea.

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