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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Faith mullen the catholic university of america

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

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

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 topic it would be dreadful if it were true

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

The Most Important Thing

  • Find the “right-sized” research project


Questions to ask

Questions to ask:

  • Who knows what?

    • Statutes and regulations

    • Published reports

    • Literature reviews

    • Informational interviews


Questions to ask1

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 ask2

Questions to ask:

  • Are there any hoops to jump through?

    Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

    Institutional Review Board (IRB)*

    *see note pages


Questions to ask3

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 ask4

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

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 about1

Things to think about:

  • Two key concepts

    • Reliability (reproducibility)

    • Validity (measure reflects the underlying concept)


Things to think about2

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 about3

Things to think about:

  • Reporting your results

    • Formal or informal?

    • Find a format

    • Brand your product

    • Create an executive summary


Things to think about4

Things to think about:

  • Research is dynamic

    • Not like baking

    • Make explicit choices

    • If data not adding up, stop and reevaluate


Things to think about5

Things to think about:

  • Keep moving parts to a minimum

    • Variables

    • Sources of data

    • Scope of research

    • Stakeholders


Things to think about6

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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