The National Law Journal reports that a new divide has cropped up in legal scholarship with more legal scholars embracing a “data-driven approach to research.” Referred to as empirical legal studies and viewed as a major trend, proponents apparently contend that reliance on statistics gives their work credibility and can reach a larger audience than traditional legal scholarship. Some critics, however, suggest that empiricism is a fad that adds nothing to the classroom and does not help in teaching analytical reasoning. Among them is UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge who said, “A lot of people I see who are empiricists, often with doctorates in the social sciences, aren’t very good lawyers. I’ve read numerous papers that just got the law wrong. The problem is that we’re hiring people with Ph.D.s in other fields, but their law credentials are middling at best.”

The article notes that a 2008 paper linking Louisiana Supreme Court rulings to campaign contributions was retracted after data problems were discovered. The students who review empirical legal studies for publication in law reviews reportedly lack the methodological background to do so, a problem that some journal editors are addressing by submitting the articles to outside reviewers. Still, with readily accessible sources of data, the empirical legal studies trend is not expected to abate anytime soon, but some hope that it will eventually inform doctrinal work, and “[t]hings will settle down.”