Minor Empirical Legal Studies (ELS)

Broadening minor


How can litigators accurately predict judicial decisions? How can corporate lawyers test the effects of alternative corporate compliance structures for their clients? And how can policy makers know the effects of legal rules and interventions on people’s behavior – e.g. does prolongation of a prison sentence reduces crime? All these questions can be addressed by employing different empirical methods to law.

Over the years, legal scholarship witnessed a rise in the incorporation of insights from social sciences like sociology, economics and psychology. Interviews, case studies, surveys, experiments and econometrics are no longer uncommon in legal research and have become the main ingredients of a new field of legal research - Empirical Legal Studies (ELS). For practicing lawyers and policy makers too, the importance of empirical data is continuously rising.

In this course, students will

  • Get acquainted with the field of ELS
  • Learn how to formulate empirical legal research questions themselves.
  • Become familiar with various methods that can be used to systematically investigate such questions (qualitative, quantitative, including new information technologies).
  • Be introduced to important empirical findings in the legal domain: law & society, law & economics, and law & psychology.
  • Learn from invited experts about the practical application of ELS in national and international policy-making. 

No prior knowledge of law, empirical methodology or statistics is required. The focus is on the design and application of empirical methods, not on statistical analysis. The course is suitable for law students, but also for social sciences students who want to learn how empirical methods are applied in the legal context and by policy makers.

Learning objectives

By the end of this minor, students will be able to:

  1. Know how to formulate empirical legal research questions.
  2. Know which empirical methods are available to answer these questions.
  3. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of these methods.
  4. Critically evaluate empirical findings.
  5. Become acquainted with important findings obtained with different empirical research methods.
  6. Understand how empirical methods can be applied in legal practice.
  7. Pinpoint how policy makers today apply empirical research in policy making at the national and international level.

Special aspects

  • This course will be taught in English.
  • It is suitable for law students and students from social sciences.
  • No prior knowledge in law, methodology or statistics is required.
  • Aside from lectures, this course will include group work and class presentations to deepen the understanding of what empirical legal methods are and how they can be applied.
  • Students will have an opportunity to meet experts from national and international institutions and learn how they apply empirical methods to policy-making.

Overview content per week

Week 1-2:

  • Introduction to the field of ELS,
  • learning how to formulate empirical legal research questions
  • Introduction to the various methods that can be used to systematically investigate such questions, including quantitative methods (where data is gathered or produced and statistical tools or information technology are used to analyze it) and qualitative methods (where data is interpreted and given meaning).

Week 3-7:

  • Introduction to empirical research in three domains:
    • law & society (where the influence of sociological and qualitative studies for law are discussed, one week);
    • law & economics (where the contributions of economic models, econometrics and economic experiments are introduced, 2 weeks),
    • law & psychology (where the contributions of surveys and psychological experiments are discussed, 2 weeks).
  • Participation in group assignments to analyze the most important papers in these fields.

Week 8 - invited experts will make students acquainted with practical applications and opportunities for empirical legal research in national and international policy making.

Weeks 9-10 will be devoted to individual presentations and peer feedback.

Teaching methods

The teaching methods will include the following methods:

  • Interactive lectures – This method is important to bring the knowledge to the students. Furthermore, students will be encouraged to interact and to develop a critical view.
  • Guest lectures by experts – this gives students the opportunity to meet practitioners (policy makers) and to understand the practical usefulness of the field they are studying.
  • Group assignments with feedback from the lecturers will allow students to learn teamwork, an important skill for legal practice and academia.
  • Individual presentations and peer feedback – the first objective is to allow students to apply independently what they have learned in the course and to develop their own ideas. Second, it gives students the opportunity to develop their presentation skills. Such skills are very important for legal practice as well as academia. Finally, giving feedback on peers also stimulates analytical and critical thinking.
  • Self and group study – students will receive reading materials to prepare for classes and meetings.
  • Students will also participate in class experiments for a first-hand experience of the methods taught.

Teaching materials

  • Presentation slides
  • Academic literature (text books and articles)
  • Policy reports
  • An online programme (can be easily and freely accessed via the internet) to conduct live experiments in class to illustrate the taught methods.


Method of examination
The method of examination in this minor will consists of 3 parts, in order to give due weight to all the elements of the course.

  • 3 Group assignments.
  • 1 Individual presentation & feedback.
  • 1 Final exam.

Composition final grade
The final grade consists of 3 parts.

  • Group assignments: 30% (10% per assignment).
  • Individual presentations & feedback:  30%.
  • Final exam: 40%.

To pass the course, the total grade should not be below 5.5.

The feedback to the students will be provided in the following way:

  • Group assignments – oral and written feedback from the lecturers in class after the assignment is completed.
  • Individual presentations – oral and written feedback from the lecturers in class after the presentation/s.
  • Final exam – a model exam answer will be sent to the students.

Students may also contact one of the two coordinators/lecturers of the course if further feedback is needed.

Contact information

Dr. Pieter Desmet
+31 10 4081100
room: L7-010

Dr. Elena Kantorowicz-Reznichenko
+31 10 4089757

room: L7-010

Broadening minor
Erasmus School of Law
Studiepunten (ECTS)
Campus Woudestein, Rotterdam


Please read the application procedure for more information.