The Plural of Anecdote is not Data:  Teaching Law Students to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf o...
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The Plural of Anecdote is not Data: Teaching Law Students to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners. Faith Mullen The Catholic University of America. It would be dreadful . . . if it were true. The request The rebuttal The research* *see note pages.

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Faith Mullen The Catholic University of America

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The Plural of Anecdote is not Data: Teaching Law Students to Conduct Empirical Research on Behalf of Community Partners

Faith Mullen

The Catholic University of America


It would be dreadful . . . if it were true

  • The request

  • The rebuttal

  • The research*

    *see note pages


Good reasons to teach research to law students:

  • Give students new tools for problem solving

  • Help students become better consumers of data

  • Strengthen community partnerships

  • Good class, clinic, independent study, or pro bono project

  • Promote change

  • Teach policy*

    *see note


Right now: Select a topicIt would be dreadful, if it were true

  • A law, regulation, or policy is not followed

  • A rule has a harsh effect on one person or group

  • Someone fails to meet an obligation

  • A need goes unmet


The Most Important Thing

  • Find the “right-sized” research project


Questions to ask:

  • Who knows what?

    • Statutes and regulations

    • Published reports

    • Literature reviews

    • Informational interviews


Questions to ask:

  • Can you get your hands on the data?

    • Does it exist?

    • Can you have it?

    • Is there an easier way to get it?


Questions to ask:

  • Are there any hoops to jump through?

    Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

    Institutional Review Board (IRB)*

    *see note pages


Questions to ask:

  • How many students will work on the project?

  • What background do they need to have?

  • Will they all have the same role?

  • Should you name a student as project manager?


Questions to ask:

  • How much time do you have?

    • Academic calendar

    • How long it will take

    • The needs of community partners

    • The shelf-life of the topic


Things to think about:

  • Choose your methodology

    • Quantitative or Qualitative?*

    • Can it be counted?

      • “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

        - William Bruce Cameron

        (sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein

        • * see notes

          *see notes


Things to think about:

  • Two key concepts

    • Reliability (reproducibility)

    • Validity (measure reflects the underlying concept)


Things to think about:

  • Surveys will be trouble

    • Don’t use surveys when “revealed preferences” are available

    • Craft questions carefully

    • How you ask question is as important as what you ask

    • Think about tomorrow when you draft questions today

    • Limit the number of questions

    • Limit open-ended questions

    • Ask for help


Things to think about:

  • Reporting your results

    • Formal or informal?

    • Find a format

    • Brand your product

    • Create an executive summary


Things to think about:

  • Research is dynamic

    • Not like baking

    • Make explicit choices

    • If data not adding up, stop and reevaluate


Things to think about:

  • Keep moving parts to a minimum

    • Variables

    • Sources of data

    • Scope of research

    • Stakeholders


Things to think about:

  • Learn from my mistakes

    • Write up methodology as you go

    • Conduct a pre-test (but exclude results)

    • Be at peace with making choices (just be transparent)

    • Practice with students how to conduct research

    • Realize it will take longer than you think


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