The Georgetown Law Lab supports a broad range of research programs.
Core Research Areas
A central research focus is in "experimental jurisprudence," or experimental philosophy of law.
For example, we study how people make judgments about what is "reasonable," or what was done "intentionally."
What is the "ordinary meaning" of contract terms or statutory provisions, or the Constitution's "original public meaning" Increasingly, these questions are theorized as involving "the public's" understanding. Empirical methods can provide insight into what legal texts communicate to an ordinary person.
Statutory Interpretation from the Outside
Does law have a universal "essence", or does it differ across cultures? Are "reasonableness" standards understood in fundamentally the same way across different jurisdictions?
We address these questions in a collaboration with the "Experimental Jurisprudence Cross Cultural Study Swap," a collaborative across Brazil, Colombia, Germany, India, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the U.S.
Are There Cross-Cultural Legal Principles? (led by Ivar Hannikainen)
Health Law & Bioethics
Research on health law and bioethics addresses questions like:
Are certain types of requests in an advance directives more likely to be followed?
Does tort law disincentivize physicians from providing "personalized" or precision-medicine treatments?
When Does Physician Use of AI Increase Liability?
Additional Research Areas
Legal Coding Project
In an increasingly common approach to studying the law, empirical scholars engage in "coding" legal materials.
For example, to study whether a criminal standard applies differently to men and women, scholars might study a sample of relevant cases and code the defendant's gender and the case outcome.
The "Legal Coding Project" is primarily concerned with the method of this type of coding. Are there hidden biases scholars should avoid, and what are the best practices for coding legal materials?
Artificial Intelligence and the Law
Improvements in artificial intelligence open up a range of fascinating current and future legal questions:
- If physicians use "black-box" AI to interpret MRI scans, must they disclose that fact to patients?
- Are there hidden costs to "AI smart contracts"?
- Would we be better off replacing human judges with cost-effective "robot judges"?
Text as Data
Recent technological advances offer the ability to study law and language through text-as-data.
For example, the Harvard Caselaw Access Project makes available all official, book-published US caselaw. BYU hosts a number of accessible corpus linguistics tools.
The Law Lab works primarily in experimental methods, but it also collaborates with empiricists working in corpus linguistics and big data approaches.
Before taking a first-year class in tort law, most students have an understanding of what it means to act intentionally.
After taking that class, students acquire a legal concept of acting intentionally. Is this legal the same as the ordinary concept; if not, how do the two differ?
What does it mean to discriminate "because of sex" or "because of race"? Recent caselaw holds that the ordinary meaning of such phrases plays a key role in discrimination law.
Research related to discrimination studies the ordinary understanding of this language.
Identity and the Self
People change dramatically over time. Compare your childhood self to your present self. In one sense you are clearly the same person, but research in cognitive science has found that people say that you are now, in some important sense, a different person.
How should the legal system respond to this fact? Is there a sense in which someone who has been incarcerated for many years is "no longer the same person" as the person who was initially sentenced?