Using Empirical Methods to Study Legal Writing

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The goal of this Article is to promote an emerging field of legal writing scholarship: the empirical study of legal writing. Reading this Article should not make you an expert in qualitative or quantitative research methods. Instead, it should highlight the possibilities for future empirical legal writing scholarship and offer enough of an introduction to inspire new empirical researchers. Even if you do not plan to conduct your own empirical research, this Article should make you a more informed consumer of empirical scholarship. This Article does not suggest that empirical research is easy. However, with careful attention to methodology, empirical research methods can yield potentially valuable findings. Given the talent and energy among legal writing faculty, we are well positioned to study what lawyers write, and the lawyers who read and write it. Part I introduces empirical research methods. This part first locates empirical methods within the existing fields of legal writing scholarship and then offers an overview of the three empirical research strategies: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research. Parts II, III, and IV examine how researchers can apply quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research strategies to study legal writing. Each part describes key features of each research method and illustrates those features by describing prior empirical studies of legal writing. Part V offers practical advice to new empirical researchers about potential questions for empirical research, data collection issues, the role of institutional review boards and methodologists, and writing up a study. Finally, the Appendix is a bibliography that presents general references on empirical research methods and lists existing empirical studies of legal writing.


Originally published by The Journal of Legal Writing Institute in 2015.