November 23, 2009
Empirical Legal Studies Today
Posted by David Zaring

I'm back from the Conference on Empirical Legal Studies at USC (at which I presented this paper) - always one of the best conferences around.  Love the precision timing of the talks, the interesting papers, and I think you'll find that it is one of the relatively rare conferences where lots of panels have lots of attendees.

It's all very good, and very cheering, but it strikes me that ELS has a number of different constituencies, and the common cause among them is not always obvious.  There's the law and courts crowd of political scientists, who are quantitatively sophisticated, and deeply divided from those political scientists who are more like constitutional lawyers.  They talk about the Supreme Court, mostly because of the data there, rather than any reason related to its importance, but are beginning to move into other areas of public law.  There's the more econ-oriented quant crowd, and they often teach in Finance and Accounting departments in business schools, but are unlikely to be Bayesians or whatever (that's more common in political science, I think).  They write about government action, when they aren't pricing derivatives or mergers, etc: an example is the literature on whether Sarbanes-Oxley has been good or bad, or whether independent courts are a sine qua non of economic development. And then there are the two kinds of law professor quant crowds.  There's the kind that try to operate in these two worlds (often very successfully, given that they have the same Ph.D.s as do the political scientists and the economists), and the kind who do not - this latter group often hand collects data on interesting legal questions and runs basic regressions (I'm one of these, with the possible exception of the interesting legal questions part!).

All of these people, to varying degrees, show up at CELS, and learn, I think, from one another, but each of them ask rather different questions, using rather different methods.  It will be interesting to see if the constituencies start their own conferences in the future, or if CELS will continue to serve them all.

Larry Ribstein has some additional thoughts here.

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