June 24, 2010
A Corrective to Legal Research Performed Through Traditional Means
"Legal research beyond case law ... offers opportunities for judges and lawmakers to better gauge the real impact of the policies they promote" writes Jeremy Patrick, a Ph.D. candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School, in Beyond Case Reporters: Using Newspapers to Supplement the Legal-Historical Record [SSRN].
Newspapers are an excellent supplement to the narrow range of legal materials found in case reporters. They offer several advantages over traditional legal research: (1) Details about the specific parties and events involved in a legal dispute that, for one reason or another, were not included by the judge writing a particular opinion;17 (2) Information about the social context in which the case took place, including the moral presuppositions held by the actors involved (victim, accuser, judge, jurors, and more); (3) Descriptions of cases never recorded in traditional reporters, allowing the researcher to better gauge the real prevalence of certain types of disputes while also gaining insight into legal decision-making that diverged from mainstream legal doctrine.
Patrick argues that newspapers are a valuable supplement and corrective to legal research performed through traditional means because they provide insights in the history of how legal concepts work in practice. One would hope Patrick will follow up this research with a study of how the legal blogosphere also supplements the legal-historical record.