Vanderbilt Law Review


Elizabeth Mertz

First Page



In recent years, the legal academy has been experiencing a strong renewed interest in empirical legal research. Referred to by various analysts as a "new legal realism" or as "empirical legal studies," this restored focus on the social sciences in many ways echoes an earlier era of legal realism in American law, with some important differences.' . . .

This Article combines these two themes: empirical research on law and careful examination of legal education. It reports on an empirical study of legal education, which I have been conducting under the auspices of the American Bar Foundation (a research institute that also has been actively developing an interdisciplinary program of research on law for many decades).3 After discussing that study, I will consider its implications for the teaching of law. This Article raises the core issue of how law works when it translates information about the wider society into legal language, from social science findings to the nitty-gritty details of plaintiffs' and defendants' lives. For example, when attorneys ask expert witnesses questions about social science findings on the stand, they are using a legal framework that is often at odds with some of the basic assumptions of the social science discipline in question. Plaintiffs and defendants may understand the conflict addressed in court much differently than do the legal professionals who are translating their stories into legally- viable frames.