CONDUCTING EMPIRICAL LEGAL RESEARCH: A VIEW FROM DOWN-UNDER

S. Righarts

University of New Zealand (NEW ZEALAND)
Unlike other jurisdictions (e.g., USA, UK) New Zealand legal academics have been relatively slow in promoting an empirical approach to legal research. The reasons for the lack of empirical legal scholars in New Zealand (and other jurisdictions) are primarily the cost of conducting this type of research, the time it takes, the specialised skill set one needs to design and analyse an empirical study, and the lack of exposure to undergraduate students to this field. However, having an understanding of empirical legal research is an essential skill that policy makers must have in order to make informed decisions. Given the lack of policy makers trained or exposed to the field it is, therefore, the responsibility of academics to conduct and promote this type of research. As such, one of the projects we are working on to help inform civil justice policy is looking at the impact that civil litigation (especially prolonged civil litigation) has on litigants’ lives, and what influence this research should have in civil justice reforms. I will present data from a national survey of 1863 New Zealanders and follow-up 100 in-depth interviews we conducted with selected respondents. A consistent theme that emerged was the negative impact that litigation had on many of their lives, with five of our sample reporting that they now have severe clinically diagnosed depression and/or anxiety disorders as a consequence of the experience. Further, several of our respondents reported that if they knew what the experience would be like they would not have gone to court, and would have dealt with the issue another way or bore the cost. While this research has raised more questions than answers at this point, it is the beginning of a research programme aimed to expose policy makers to empirical research and to help inform future civil justice reform debates.