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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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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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