By email and by blog, I’ve gotten pushback from those who continue to contest that we’re in an empirical “bubble.” I take that to mean a fad – a passing interest –rather than an empirical claim that we are valuing work or candidates at more than their intrinsic worth. (How could we get any handle on either side of that equation!) My point about the economics of supply-side data is that it’s a trend that is only going to get stronger in the future. Larry Ribstein certainly is correct to observe that this creates a “looking-under-the-lampost” problem. But of course, legal academics have been in a century-long crouch under a lamppost of their very own. As Llewellyn said:
“I am a prey, as is every may who tries to work with law, to the apperceptive mass . . . [T]he appellate courts make access to their work convenient. They issue reports, printed, bound, to be had all gathered for me in libraries. The convenient source of information lures.” (Bramble Bush)
Looking at newly cheap data about legal institutions encourages people to run fast regressions without thinking. But reading opinions, which are free, has encouraged thousands of legal articles about a dataset which is biased & shaped by selection. (Irrational behavior in response to a “radical price“? Nah.) Truly sophisticated empirical work doesn’t discount the role of opinions in shaping legal norms, but it does conclude that opinions are skewed and rhetorically hot versions of what judges do, and thus unrepresentative of how practically-grounded lawyers make judgments about how to litigate their cases. Making that insight concrete is but one of the many projects undertaken by the New Legal Realists. Others – law and psychology, law and criminology, cultural cognition, etc. – together convince me that the future of the empirical revolution is pretty bright. And having a PhD/JD is an increasingly important entry credential in the field.