Saturday, 23 March 2013

The best of both worlds - Empirical Legal Studies in the US and the UK

A few days ago I attended an excellent inaugural lecture on Empirical Legal Studies (in the following: “ELS”), but it made me wonder a bit on what exactly ELS is and what it should be (of course, I’m not the first one to do so; eg, here, here, here).
  To start with, it seems useful to distinguish between a US and a UK variant. In the US the respective journal and conference (JELS, CELS) have shaped ELS: predominately, it is seen as applying quantitative methods to any legal question. By contrast, in the UK, it refers to both quantitative and qualitative methods, but a quick search with Westlaw or Google-UK leads to another, more implicit, limitation, namely that ELS research is predominantly about questions related to courts, lawyers, and related institutions of justice.
  I’d suggest that the best way forward is to combine these two approaches (thus, the title of this blog post):

  • On the one hand, the UK gets it right in including qualitative methods. Terminologically, there is no reason to focus on quantitative methods. Moreover, at least some research requires both: to illustrate, when I attended the CELS in the US last year a speaker merely presented data on some legal topic in China – and, unusual for CELS, the first but rather obvious comment from the discussant was that it would be really useful to add a qualitative case study in order to clarify what the real problem is and what the subsequent data may tell us. 
  • On the other hand, the US gets it right in treating ELS as a method, not a particular substantive area. Of course, courts and lawyers are important, but thinking about how law works (ie applying an empirical perspective) is clearly something that also concerns its impact on other persons (citizens, businessmen etc), other institutions (companies, NGO etc), as well as the society as a whole (eg, impact on growth, well-being, etc) – and all of this, of course, may be relevant to any area of law, as the variety of topics covered in JELS/CELS show.
This “best of both worlds” approach also shows why it is useful to have a field like ELS at all, namely, to encourage us to learn about and discuss a particular method. Whereas in other disciplines methods training is seen as absolutely essential (e.g., for a doctorate degree), legal academics are often quite unfamiliar with core concepts of methodology, epistemology, philosophy of science etc. Thus, there is a clear need for fora (be it journals, conferences, centres etc) that deal with particular methods. But, this should not lead to narrow-mindedness: thus, in the present context, having a field that combines both quantitative and qualitative empirical methods as they can apply to any area of law seems most plausible to me.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

A ‘Wordle’ comparison of the old and new Companies Acts of the UK and India

I’m doing serious research on comparative company law - but not today! Instead, playing with Wordle: I took the UK CA 1985, the UK CA 2006, the Indian CA 1956 (as amended) and the Indian Companies Bill 2012 (as approved by the lower house), and used Wordle to find the 20 most common words in these Acts (omitting common English words; but also uninteresting frequent terms like ‘company’, ‘section’, ‘act’).
First the two UK ones: 
So, ‘shares’ and ‘person’ most frequently used; then, ‘case’ and ‘court’ in the old one, but ‘members’ and ‘resolution’ in the new one (together with ‘accounts’ in both); also interesting that ‘information’ and ‘offence’ are now in top 20, all of this potentially showing a shift away from a judicial-focussed company law.
Now India, the old and the new acts – how will they be different from each other, and will they show convergence or divergence from the UK? 
Ok, the terms 'shares' and 'person' (and ‘case’ in the old one) are similar to the UK. But the clouds are also quite different: with ‘Government’, ‘Tribunal’ and ‘board’ (note: the ‘Amendment’ is perhaps misleading as I copied the ‘as amended’ version), but for instance not ‘accounts’ and ‘resolutions’. Some of these differences may be stylistic (‘board’?) but they may also indicate a different substantive focus (‘Government’?), or that certain topics (‘accounts’?) are addressed elsewhere in the law.
Overall, the difference between, even, the (very) black-letter law between UK and Indian company law seems to me more pronounced then I’d have expected. Of course, if one wanted to do a more proper content analysis, more sophisticated techniques could be used – or silly ones, of course (eg, I’m thinking of checking the Indian Acts, against the UK ones, with plagiarism software – but not today…)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Problem with the THE University Reputation Ranking

Yesterday the Times Higher published its new reputation ranking. I’m not sure this ranking tells us anything meaningful. Six universities are far ahead of any other universities: ok, so people asked to name the best universities, mention the few global brands such as Harvard. Not a big surprise but certainly not a robust quality comparison (rather, more like a world survey of the best actors and of course the most well known Hollywood celebrities would top such a ranking).
The reputation ranking also unduly favours big universities. To show this, I use the Leiden ranking which scales for university size (as do some other global rankings, btw: good overview here). I took the 36 UK universities that made it in the ranking and compared the UK rank with numbers on total academic staff members (data here), as ranked for these universities.

The scatterplot shows that there is hardly any relationship (correlation 0.11): e.g., some of the largest universities (e.g., Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial), but also some of the smaller ones (e.g., St Andrews, Durham, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) make it into the top ten.
But in the scatterplot I have also added circles – ie the ‘o’ – of the eight UK universities that also made it into the THE Reputation Ranking top 100 (note: in total there are nine, as the LSE is in the THE but not the Leiden ranking). Here it can clearly be seen that the THE Reputation Ranking mainly rewards size: with one exception it only includes the biggest UK universities, whether these are really the best ones or not.
Implications: well, one could think about merging universities in order to improve the brand value and reputation ranking (apparently discussed in Ireland: see here). But my real suggestion would be just to ignore the THE Reputation Ranking (though I felt urged to write this post anyway…).