Legal Research Methodology: Types of Legal Research

legal research methodology

Legal research serves three main functions, exploring a legal problem, critically describing facts and legislation, and explaining or interpreting legal issues and concepts.

What is Legal Research Methodology?

Why is a methodology needed in the first place?

The methodology is a means of inquiry to achieve these purposes in a meaningful way.

The methodology is a systematic inquiry that provides information to guide legal research. The methodology is the trained and scientific investigation of the principles and facts of any subject. The methodology helps the readers understand the research methods to discover the truth and evaluate the results’ validity.

It also helps the researchers follow a consistent logic in research and prepare them to meet possible challenges. The methodology is also an important way to gam reliable and valid knowledge and explore the relationship between theory and practice.

Understanding research methods will help students conduct and write up their research monographs, dissertations, or theses systematically.

However, research methodology is different from research methods. ‘Research method’ usually implies all methods and techniques used to collect and process the data.

Thus, the method is a tool or technique such as a qualitative or quantitative method. It also includes interviews, case studies, or surveys.

On the other hand, research methodology refers to the body of methods that guide thinking within a specific field of study. A methodology is a justification or rationale for the research approach and is concerned with the general strategy or approach of undertaking research.

Legal research methodology is a must.

It is vital for a researcher to know the research methodology and understand the underlying methodologies’ assumptions. Researchers also need to know the criteria by which they can decide that certain methodologies will apply to certain problems.

Research methodology has been defined as the means of acquiring scientific knowledge. It has also been defined as a means to gather information and data to achieve a valid outcome.

Legal research methodology is simply a way of addressing and exploring unsettled legal questions or issues. Legal research methodologies are techniques by which one acquires legally relevant information, analyzes, interprets, and applies them to resolve issues and present the findings.

Thus, legal research methodology is a scientific and systematic way to solve any legal question. Legal research methodology also refers to rules of interpretation of legal problems and issues. It is a systematic effort to make an argument to arrive at a true or accurate account of the subject matter under consideration.

The researcher should explain properly why he uses a particular method to evaluate research results by the researcher himself or others. Adopting a particular methodology should stem from the research objective and purpose.

Types of Legal Research - Qualitative Legal Research and Quantitative Legal Research

Legal research is classified into two broad types;

  • Qualitative Legal Research.
  • Quantitative Legal Research.

One of the traditional classifications is pure and applied research. While the former implies analysis of theories, the latter is concerned with testing the theories in the real world.

Depending upon the nature of the research question, legal research is also classified as descriptive and exploratory one.

Descriptive research attempts to describe a situation, problem, phenomenon, or behavior systematically. A description is concerned with making complicated things understandable and simple.

Exploratory research is undertaken to explore areas about which the researcher has little or no knowledge. It involves findings the reason for things, events and situations, showing why and how they have come to be what they are. Exploratory research enables the researcher to formulate problems for more in-depth study, develop hypotheses, and find the best solution.

Another popular distinction is between pure doctrinal research and non-doctrinal or empirical research.

While the former is theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge without a specific application, the latter is original work undertaken to acquire new knowledge with a specific practical application in view. Doctrinal legal research is concerned with the analysis of legal theories, concepts, rules, and principles.

Most doctrinal legal research is based on the ‘black-letter law’ approach, which focuses on the knowledge of law found in the legal texts, legal theories, statutes, and court judgments with ‘little or no reference to the world outside the law.’

The doctrinal or ‘black-letter’ legal research aims to explain, systemize, and clarify the law on any particular topic by a distinctive mode of analysis.

In recent times, pure doctrinal legal research has been criticized for its rigidity, narrower scope, and inflexibility in addressing diverse contexts m which legal issues or situations arise and operate.

As a result, empirical or inter-disciplinary legal research emerged as a distinct type of legal scholarship in the law schools of western countries to study law in the broader social and political contexts. This empirical and interdisciplinary legal research employs various social science and humanities methods. According to Epstein and King,

What makes research empirical is that it is based on observations of the world, in other words, data, which is just a term for facts about the world. These facts may be historical or contemporary or based on legislation or case law, the results of interviews or surveys, or the outcomes of secondary archival research or primary data collection.

Another important classification is between qualitative and quantitative research.

Qualitative research is concerned with the explanation, interpretation, and understanding of phenomena or issues, or things. It is concerned with the subjective assessment of the social or legal problem, situation, and attitude. It relies primarily on human perception and understanding.

Qualitative research is critical in the behavioral sciences, where the aim is to discover the underlying motives of human behavior. A qualitative approach is concerned with the subjective assessment of attitudes, opinions, and behavior.

Quantitative research offers:

  • richly descriptive reports of individual perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, views, and feelings,
  • the meanings and interpretations are given to events and things, as well as their behavior;
  • it displays how these are put together, more or less coherently and consciously,
  • into frameworks that make sense of their experiences; and
  • illuminates the motivations which connect attitudes and behavior, the discontinuities, or
  • even contradictions between attitudes and behavior, or
  • how conflicting attitudes and motivations are resolved in particular choices made.

Qualitative research is related to the analysis of some abstract idea, doctrine, or theory. It is generally used to develop new concepts or to reinterpret existing ones. In qualitative research, researchers use analytical techniques and their views on the subject matter in question.

Qualitative research varifies the old established principles of laws. It may lead to discovering a new theory, refinement, or interpretation of an existing theory, principles, or legal issues. On the other hand, empirical research relies on experience or observation alone, often without due regard for system and theory.

Qualitative research involves more explicit judgment, interpretation, or critical evaluation of a problem. As far as legal study is concerned, the qualitative method is applied to analyze legal propositions or legal theories or doctrines and explore existing statutory propositions and cases in the light of propositions or doctrines.

Qualitative research of law involves studying general theoretical questions about the nature of laws and legal systems, the relationship of law to justice and morality, and problems of application of law in a given society.

The main advantage of the qualitative method is that qualitative analysis draws on the interpretive skills of the researcher and opens up the possibility of more than one explanation being valid.

The main criticism of qualitative research is that it is too impressionistic and subjective. Qualitative findings rely too much on the researcher’s subjective assessment of views about what is significant.

The qualitative research findings tend to be open-ended, which is difficult to generalize: Many qualitative research works are doctrinal. Observation, interviewing, case study, examination, and analysis are the most common method of qualitative research.

It is based on the measurement of quantity or amount. It consists of counting how frequently things happen. It applies to phenomena that can be expressed in terms of quantity. It is also known as the statistical method.

Because in quantitative research, researchers use an array of statistical methods and generalizations to determine the meaning of data. It has been the dominant strategy for conducting socio-legal research. Quantitative methods often test or verify the existing theories or hypotheses.

Quantitative research involves finding a solution to a real-life problem requiring an action or policy decision. Quantitative research also tests many variables through the generation of primary data. The generalization process from sample to population is an example of quantitative instead of qualitative research methodology. Quantitative research can contribute new evidence, challenge old theories, and help conceptual clarification.

Usually, the quantitative approach involves generating data in quantitative form, which can be subjected to rigorous quantitative analysis formally and rigidly. Quantification can make it easier to aggregate, compare and summarise data.

Data can be collected from questionnaire surveys, fact-finding inquiries, and interviews. Data analysis is one of the important components of quantitative research.

The quantitative method is also sometimes termed an empirical approach as data are collected to test the hypothesis or examine the propositions or interpretations of findings.

  1. First, quantitative data are gathered by various forms of statistical techniques based on the principles of mathematics and probability. The analysis appears to be based on objective laws rather than the researcher’s values.
  2. Second, statistical tests of significance give researchers additional credibility in terms of their interpretations and their confidence in their findings.
  3. Third, quantitative data analysis provides a solid foundation for description and analysis.
  4. Fourth, large volumes of quantitative data can be analyzed relatively quickly, provided adequate preparation and planning have occurred in advance.
  5. Finally, tables and charts effectively organize quantitative data and communicate the findings to others.

The quantitative research method supplements traditional legal research to investigate the complexities of the law, legal actors, and legal activities.

Quantitative legal research is mostly applicable for conducting non-doctrinal, empirical, and socio-legal research. Objectivity remains the main aspect of quantitative research.

A set of rules or procedures should be followed in quantitative research, even though qualitative research tends to be more flexible. While the researcher’s values and bias influence qualitative research, quantitative research seeks to report the findings objectively, and the role of the researcher is neutral.

To some extent, it depends on the training of the researcher and the nature of the research questions. But choosing one method in exclusion of others may be counterproductive for advancing legal scholarship.

Rather blending both quantitative and qualitative approaches can be the best way to accomplish the objectives of research work. It is generally accepted that using more than one method strengthens the validity and credibility of the research.

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