Research

The Georgetown Law Lab supports a broad range of research programs.

Core Research Areas

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Experimental Jurisprudence

A central research focus is in "experimental jurisprudence," or experimental philosophy of law.

This approach, which the lab understands as continuous with some aims of traditional jurisprudence, seeks to contribute data that clarifies important legal concepts.

For example, we study how people make judgments about what is "reasonable," or what was done "intentionally."

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Empirical Interpretation

What is the "ordinary meaning" of contract terms or statutory provisions, or the "original public meaning" of the  Constitution?

Increasingly, these questions are theorized as involving an "ordinary person's" understanding of the relevant language. Empirical methods can provide insight into what legal texts communicate to an ordinary person.

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Comparative Law

Does law have a universal "essence", or does it differ across cultures?

 

"Reasonableness" standards appear in diverse legal jurisdictions--are those standards understood in fundamentally the same way across all these different jurisdictions?

 

We address these questions in a collaboration with the "Experimental Jurisprudence Cross Cultural Study Swap," a research collaborative across Brazil, Colombia, Germany, India, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the U.S.

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Health Law & Bioethics

An important research focus 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?

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 legal questions; some are pressing issues, while others remain science-fictional:

- 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. 

Legal Education

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? 

Discrimination

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. 

An emerging project 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?