AALS Annual Meeting 2006


January 3-7, 2006

Washington, DC

To have practical value, as well as academic merit, legal scholarship should, among other pursuits, explore contemporary issues in the real world contexts in which they arise. The Rule of Law is, in the final analysis, nothing more or less than an orderly and equitable means for achieving a society’s economic, political, social and moral objectives. In a properly functioning legal system in which these objectives are generally agreed upon and clearly articulated to participants in the society, it is nevertheless essential to continuously inquire whether the law is based on correct assumptions about how the world works and people behave. Even if its underlying assumptions prove valid, it is still important to determine whether a particular law or process is actually achieving its stated objectives. Identifying unintended consequences of legal actions is also of great utility to the smooth functioning of a society.

To have practical value, as well as academic merit, legal scholarship should, among other pursuits, explore contemporary issues in the real world contexts in which they arise. The Rule of Law is, in the final analysis, nothing more or less than an orderly and equitable means for achieving a society’s economic, political, social and moral objectives. In a properly functioning legal system in which these objectives are generally agreed upon and clearly articulated to participants in the society, it is nevertheless essential to continuously inquire whether the law is based on correct assumptions about how the world works and people behave. Even if its underlying assumptions prove valid, it is still important to determine whether a particular law or process is actually achieving its stated objectives. Identifying unintended consequences of legal actions is also of great utility to the smooth functioning of a society.

Discovering the basic information required for modern society to respond intelligently to issues like these is the purpose of empirical research in law – what Roscoe Pound once poetically described as “Law in Action Research”. Legal scholarship based on empirical research is intended to test theoretical assumptions about the law, survey relevant actors to determine preferences that markets cannot reflect, evaluate the congruence of regulatory goals and outcomes, and generally produce reliable facts necessary for lawyers, judges and other decision makers to properly perform their key roles in resolving disputes, correcting social problems and administering justice. Empirical scholarship can also provide the essential grist for law reform when research demonstrates that systemic improvement is needed.

Throughout the 2005 year, members of the legal academy have been encouraged to reflect upon the place of empirical research in the scholarly mission of law schools. Questions deserving attention have included: what is the range of empirical studies currently underway, where are the best places to publish empirical scholarship, what case can be made for law professors undertaking empirical work or leading collaborative teams conducting empirical research, what are the risks and rewards for law faculty producing empirical scholarship, what methods of data gathering and analysis are legal researchers employing and what other methods of the social sciences might be productively brought to bear on law projects, which contemporary laws and processes particularly merit close study through empirical research techniques, how can the results of sound empirical studies be brought to the attention of decision makers, and how can members of the legal academy be stimulated to undertake the empirical studies needed to support law reform? This is but a sampling of the questions to be addressed at this 2006 Annual Meeting by the Association’s committees, sections, and various special programs, including the three concurrent plenary sessions devoted exclusively to empirical scholarship. It is in this way that our Association will continue the ongoing exploration of ways to enhance its role as the learned society of legal scholars.

N. William Hines, AALS President and
The University of Iowa