May 31, 2010
I was in a hospital in Madison the other day having a nerve in my arm relocated. I was impressed by the technology being used—the surgeon’s and the anesthesiologist’s knowledge of the procedures, their skill in doing them, and the equipment and supplies that they used. All of these things were the fruit of scientific investigation of one type or another. I also couldn’t help but think how much more science could be used in the law. That’s what I hope this blog will be about.
The law was a second (or third) career for me. After obtaining a M.S. in Agriculture and Resource Economics, I worked for the University of Wisconsin-Extension as an agricultural agent in northern and western Wisconsin. I was, as an adult educator, part of the interface between researchers at the university (primarily UW-Madison, the land-grant college) and farmers considering adopting new technology. I was part of the “Wisconsin Idea”—that the boundaries of the state universities were the boundaries of Wisconsin. In agriculture, researched-based ideas flowed quite directly from the university to the end users of the technology, the farmers and agri-business people.
After entering the law, I didn’t see the same link between the universities and the practice of law. In fact, the realm of academia and the realm of practice appear rather discrete. I couldn’t help but notice that whereas at continuing agriculture education classes, the speakers were primarily university professors; at seminars for legal practitioners or judges, rarely does a professor speak. I believe that part of the reason for this difference is that much law school “research” is not empirical (nor based on extensions of empirical research), but commentary and analysis of esoteric legal issues and U.S. Supreme Court decisions—all quite interesting, but often of little immediate practical value. However, I know that there is valuable empirical research coming out of universities, most often out of sociology, psychology, and other social science departments. However, much of the information derived from that research does not seem to reach practitioners. I think that is an unfortunate waste of societal resources.We are hearing much recently about the use of “evidence-based medicine”. For example, the New York Times had a Sunday Magazine article on evidence-based medicine. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/magazine/08Healthcare-t.html . Judges in Wisconsin are also now hearing of things such as evidenced-based sentencing and juvenile dispositions (including programs masquerading as “evidenced-based”). For an excellent discussion of evidence-based juvenile programs and links to other evidenced based programs see: Cooney, S.M., Huser, M., Small, S., & O’Connor, C. (2007). Evidence-based programs: An overview. What Works, Wisconsin Research to Practice Series, 6. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin–Madison/Extension. http://www.uwex.edu/ces/flp/families/whatworks_06.pdf. My interest is researched-based law (I will tell you why researched-based rather than evidenced-based at another time), and I hope to discuss empirical research and its implications on the practice of law. I hope to be sort of a Legal Extension Agent, somewhat like the Agricultural Extension Agent I once was. We will see how that goes.