Laws of one kind or another
natural and human, explanatory and prescriptive,covering and coercive
are the business of both scientists and lawyers. Not only that:the laws that are of interest to each group exert a degree of regulative pressure on theother. Yet, these worlds, each highly specialised, relatively closed, and inaccessible tooutsiders, are very different. Even if lawyers have a general sense of what it is thatscientific researchers seek to achieve, they have little chance of understanding heavy-duty science. As for the scientists, they probably find it difficult to imagine what kindof questions might attract the attention of legal researchers, let alone have any interestin heavy-duty law (whatever that might be). Lawyers, the scientific community mightreflect, seem to have an unhealthy zeal for regulation. Occasionally, they can be of some practical assistance (for example, in advising on a patent application or somesuch matter). But, what on earth occupies legal researchers? What precisely doacademic lawyers do?If this question had been posed thirty or forty years ago, it would have been arelatively easy one to answer. For, although academic lawyers in England and Wales(unlike in many other jurisdictions) do
have a tradition of working closely withlegal practitioners, most of their research and writing at that time was directed at a practitioner readership. The stuff of such research
so-called “black-letter” legalscholarship
was, and continues to be, the exposition and analysis of legislation andcase-law, the integration of statutory provisions and judicial pronouncements into acoherent and workable body of doctrine.However, over the last 30-40 years, academic lawyers have increasingly researched ina way that is less focused on the day-to-day needs of legal practitioners
or, at anyrate, on the practical needs of barristers and solicitors. Academic lawyers have become more fully integrated into the university community, developing lines of inquiry
philosophical, sociological, economic, historical, and so on
that focus onthe practice of law (in a broad sense) but without treating their writing as primarily aservice for barristers and solicitors who need to check out and advise on the legal position. To be sure, academic lawyers continue to produce works that are designedfor practitioner reference, but legal research nowadays has a much broader compass.In her recent ethnography of the modern legal academy, Fiona Cownie observes thistransition, remarking on the relative reluctance of her academic lawyer intervieweesto identify themselves with a “black-letter” approach to the subject
indeed, half therespondents describe themselves as adopting a socio-legal or critical legal approach,with feminist approaches also being routinely used.
The interests of the legalacademy are both more catholic and less parochial than they once were.In this short introduction to the shifting scene of legal research, we can start withsome examples of doctrinal analysis, before considering some approaches to criticalevaluation (of doctrine, institutional design, and practice), which leads to a few
(Oxford: Hart, 2004).