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THE JOURNAL OF EMPIRICAL LEGAL STUDIES Finding the Facts that Challenge Our Assumptions about the World by L I N DA B R A N D T M Y E R S The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies has upended people’s assumptions on everything from class action awards to how foreigners fare in court. In the early 1980s, if you stopped people on the street and asked if civil rights cases were clogging the courts, with litigants making a bundle while other kinds of cases languished, chances are they would have agreed. The problem was it wasn’t true. Theodore Eisenberg, the Henry Allen Mark Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, and his students did their first empirical study on that very subject, publishing an article about it in the Cornell Law Review in 1982. In their study they counted the number of civil rights cases and found there were far fewer in reality than in the popular imagination. They also looked at the outcomes of those cases and noted most litigants had done poorly. “I’ve been doing empirical legal work ever since,” says Professor Eisenberg. “I began studying all other classes of litigants anytime I could get a hold of good data.” Empirical legal research applies rigorous social science methodology to subjects that 10 have a legal component but can involve areas as wide-ranging as criminal justice, corporate law, healthcare, and securities regulation. “I like to let the data tell their own story, not try to superimpose one,” says Professor Eisenberg. “As in any good scholarship, you check your assumptions. If you don’t have the real facts, people will make them up or follow the headlines.” In 2001, Professor Eisenberg, who had long wanted to start a peer-refereed, faculty-edited journal on empirical legal research, got the blessing of then Law School dean Lee E. Teitelbaum. “The dean told me he didn’t see why our school couldn’t support such a journal, so I approached publishers, selected Blackwell from those interested in doing it, and lined up an editorial board,” says Professor Eisenberg. “Since then I’ve been constantly behind,” he jokes. From its first issue in 2004, the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (JELS) shook things up.

The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies: Finding the Facts that Challenge Our Assumptions...

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