Your browser does not support JavaScript



The Harvard Empirical Legal Studies (HELS) Series explores a range of empirical methods, both qualitative and quantitative, and their application in legal scholarship in different areas of the law. It is a platform for engaging with current empirical research, hearing from leading scholars working in a variety of fields, and developing ideas and empirical projects.

HELS is open to all students and scholars with an interest in empirical research. No prior background in empirical legal research is necessary. If you would like to join HELS and receive information about our sessions, please subscribe to our mailing list by completing this form.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the current HELS coordinator, Brenda Dvoskin.

All times are provided in U.S. Eastern Time (UTC/GMT-0400).

Fall 2021 Sessions

Fall 2021 Sessions

How to read quantitative empirical legal scholarship?

Holger Spamann, Lawrence R. Grove Professor of Law

Friday, October 1, 2021, 12:30-1:30 p.m. ET

As legal scholars, what tools do we need to read critically and engage productively with quantitative empirical scholarship? In the first session of the 2021-2022 Harvard Empirical Legal Studies Series, Harvard Law Professor Holger Spamann will compare and discuss different quantitative studies. This session will be a first approximation to be able to understand in depth and eventually produce empirical legal scholarship. All students and scholars interested in empirical research are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Qualitative Methods for Law Review Writing

Katerina Linos, Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law

Monday, October 25, 2021, 12:30-1:30 p.m. ET

Typical law review articles not only clarify what the law is, but also examine the history of the current rules, assess the status quo, and present reform proposals. To make theoretical arguments more plausible, legal scholars frequently use examples: they draw on cases, statutes, political debates, and other sources. But legal scholars often pick their examples unsystematically and explore them armed with only the tools for doctrinal analysis. Unsystematically chosen examples can help develop plausible theories, but they rarely suffice to convince readers that these theories are true, especially when plausible alternative explanations exist. This talk presents methodological insights from multiple social science disciplines and from history that could strengthen legal scholarship by improving research design, case selection, and case analysis.

Risk and Rage: How Feminists Transformed the Law and Science of AIDS

Aziza Ahmed, Professor of Law at UC Irvine School of Law

Tuesday, November 23, 2021, 12:30-1:30 p.m. ET

Professor Ahmed will discuss her current book project Risk and Rage: How Feminists Transformed the Law and Science of AIDS. The book recovers the stories of feminist organizing in the 1980s to show how feminists resisted the idea that women were biologically resistant to HIV. Against a linear account of scientific progress, this book argues that it was actually activists, including the ACT-UP women’s caucus and lawyers, who forced the CDC to change their definition of AIDS. Through this project Professor Ahmed documents how feminists saw that public health advocacy not only requires reworking legal rules to better health outcomes, it is also often necessary to destabilize scientific settlements and the consensus of experts as well. In the context of AIDS, feminists not only changed the legal governance of AIDS, they altered the scientific trajectory of the epidemic.

Spring 2022 Sessions

Spring 2022 Sessions

Titles and abstracts for the following spring 2022 sessions will be posted here when available.

Law & Political Economy and the Question of Method

Amy Kapczynski and Yochai Benkler

Friday, February 4, 2022, 12:45-1:45 p.m. ET

What type of questions does Law and Political Economy (LPE) scholarship ask? Does it have a method and what are different ways of understanding that term? What does L&PE borrow from other legal traditions or other disciplines? What are the connections between L&PE’s substantive commitments and its methodological approach or approaches? Professors Amy Kapczynski (Yale Law School) and Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law School) will explore these questions through their own work.

Ethnography in Legal Scholarship

Speaker: Jessica Silbey

Friday, February 25, 2022, 12:30-1:30 p.m. ET

Professor Jessica Silbey will discuss her book chapter, IP and Ethnography. This work explains the benefits and some limitations of qualitative research methods to study intellectual property law. It compares quantitative research methods and the economic analysis of law in the same field as other kinds of empirical inquiry that are helpful in collaboration but limited in isolation.

the Limits of Portfolio Primacy 

Speaker: Roberto Tallarita

Monday, March 28, 2022, 12:30-1:30 p.m. ET

An increasingly popular theory argues that large index funds have strong financial incentives to undertake the role of “climate stewards” and to reduce companies’ carbon footprint. This theory is based on the idea that index funds invest in the entire economy and therefore seek to reduce systemic risks such as climate change. Roberto Tallarita will discuss a framework to assess the limits of this theory and suggests that policymakers should not rely on index fund stewardship as an effective substitute for climate regulation. Register here.

HELS with Susan Silbey: Analyzing ethnographic data and producing new theory 

Speaker: Susan S. Silbey

Monday, April 11, 2022, 12:30-1:30 p.m. ET
Hauser Hall – 101 Borenstein Meeting Room

Professor Susan Silbey will talk about how to use ethnographic data to produce new theory. She will discuss her forthcoming paper “Why is Regulatory Compliance So Difficult? Professional Discretion and Technical Expertise.” Explanations for inconsistent regulatory compliance range widely, including poorly designed legislation and lax enforcement leading to industry capture of the regulators. Using ethnographic data from studies of environmental, health and safety regulations governing scientific laboratories, this paper explains why regulatory compliance seems elusive. Regulations designed to make professional work more legible and responsive to both organizational and public expectations depend on professionals’ willing implementation, and thus examines how professional control shapes regulatory compliance.

Resources for Empirical Research

Past HELS Sessions

Past HELS Sessions


  • 2020-2021 (Coordinator: Gali Racabi)

    Cass R. Sunstein (University Professor at Harvard) – Optimal Sludge? The Price of Program Integrity

    Scott L. Cummings (Professor of Legal Ethics and Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law) – The Making of Public Interest Lawyers

    Elliot Ash (Assistant Professor of Law, Economics, and Data Science at ETH Zürich) – Gender Attitudes in the Judiciary: Evidence from U.S. Circuit Courts

    Kathleen Thelen (Ford Professor of Political Science at MIT) – Employer Organization in the United States: Historical Legacies and the Long Shadow of the American Courts

    Omer Kimhi (Associate Professor at Haifa University Law School) – Caught In a Circle of Debt – Consumer Bankruptcy Discharge and Its Aftereffects

    Suresh Naidu (Professor in Economics and International and Public Affairs, Columbia School of International and Public Affairs) – Ideas Have Consequences: The Impact of Law and Economics on American Justice

    Vardit Ravitsky (Full Professor at the Bioethics Program, School of Public Health, University of Montreal) – Empirical Bioethics: The Example of Research on Prenatal Testing

    Johnnie Lotesta (Postdoctoral Democracy Fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School) – Opinion Crafting and the Making of U.S. Labor Law in the States

    David Hagmann (Harvard Kennedy School) – The Agent-Selection Dilemma in Distributive Bargaining

  • 2019-2020 (Coordinator: Gali Racabi)

    Cass R. Sunstein (Harvard Law School) – Rear Visibility and Some Problems for Economic Analysis (with Particular Reference to Experience Goods)

    Talia Gillis (Ph.D. Candidate and S.J.D. Candidate, Harvard Business School and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Law School) – False Dreams of Algorithmic Fairness: The Case of Credit Pricing

    Tzachi Raz (Ph.D. Candidate in Economics at Harvard University) – There’s No Such Thing as Free Land: The Homestead Act and Economic Development

    Crystal Yang (Harvard Law School) – Fear and the Safety Net: Evidence from Secure Communities

    Adaner Usmani (Harvard Sociology) – The Origins of Mass Incarceration

    Jim Greiner (Harvard Law School) – Randomized Control Trials in the Legal Profession

    Talia Shiff (Postdoctoral Fellow, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and Department of Sociology, Harvard University) – Legal Standards and Moral Worth in Frontline Decision-Making: Evaluations of Victimization in US Asylum Determinations

  • 2018-2019 (Coordinators: Elena Chachko & Gali Racabi)

    Francesca Gino (Harvard Business School) – Rebel Talent

    Joscha Legewie (Department of Sociology, Harvard University) – The Effects of Policing on Educational Outcomes and Health of Minority Youth

    Ryan D. Enos (Department of Government, Harvard University) – The Space Between Us: Social Geography and Politics

    Katerina Linos (Berkeley Law, University of California) – How Technology Transforms Refugee Law

    Roie Hauser (Visiting Researcher at the Program on Corporate Governance, Harvard Law School) – Term Length and the Role of Independent Directors in Acquisitions

    Anina Schwarzenbach (Fellow, National Security Program, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School) – A Challenge to Legitimacy: Effects of Stop-and-Search Police Contacts on Young People’s Relations with the Police

    Cass R. Sunstein (Harvard Law School) – Willingness to Pay to Use Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, and More: A National Survey

    Netta Barak-Corren (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) – The War Within

    James Greiner & Holger Spamann (Harvard Law School) – Panel: Why​ ​Does​ ​the​ ​Legal​ ​Profession​ ​Resist​ ​Rigorous​ ​Empiricism?

    Mila Versteeg (University of Virginia School of Law) (with Adam Chilton) – Do Constitutional Rights Make a Difference?

    Susan S. Silbey (MIT Department of Anthropology) (with Patricia Ewick) – The Common Place of Law

  • 2017-2018 (Coordinator: Elena Chachko)

    Holger Spamann (Harvard Law School) – Empirical Legal Studies: What They Are and How NOT to Do Them

    Arevik Avedian (Harvard Law School) – How to Read an Empirical Paper in Law

    James Greiner (Harvard Law School) – Randomized Experiments in the Law

    Robert MacCoun (Stanford Law School) – Coping with Rapidly Changing Standards and Practices in the Empirical Sciences (including ELS)

    Mario Small (Harvard Department of Sociology) – Qualitative Research in the Big Data Era

    Adam Chilton (University of Chicago Law School) – Trade Openness and Antitrust Law

    Jennifer Lerner (Harvard Kennedy School and Department of Psychology) – Anger in Legal Decision Making

    Sarah Dryden-Peterson (Harvard Graduate School of Education) – Respect, Reciprocity, and Relationships in Interview-Based Research

  • 2016-2017 (Coordinator: Aluma Zernik)

    Charles Wang (Harvard Business School) – Natural Experiments and Court Rulings

    Guhan Subramanian (Harvard Law School) – Determining Fair Value

    James Greiner (Harvard Law School) – Randomized Control Trials and the Impact of Legal Aid

    Maya Sen (Harvard Kennedy School) – The Political Ideologies of Law Clerks and their Judges

    Daria Roithmayr (University of Southern California Law School) – The Dynamics of Police Violence

  • 2015-2016 (Coordinator: Netta Barak-Corren)

    Crystal Yang (Harvard Law School) – Empiricism in the Service of Criminal Law and Theory

    Oren Bar-Gill (Harvard Law School) – Is Empirical Legal Studies Changing Law and Economics?

    Elizabeth Linos (Harvard Kennedy School; VP, Head of Research and Evaluation, North America, Behavioral Insights Team) – Behavioral Law and Economics in Action: BIT, BIG, and the policymaking of choice architecture

    Meira Levinson (Harvard School of Education) – Justice in Schools: Qualitative Sociological Research and Normative Ethics in Schools

    Howell Jackson (HLS) – Cost-Benefit Analysis

  • 2014-2015 (Coordinators: Kobi Kastiel, Netta Barak-Corren)

    Michael Heise (Cornell Law School) – Quantitative Research in Law: An Introductory Workshop

    Susan Silbey (MIT) – Interviews: An Introductory Workshop

    Kevin Quinn (UC Berkeley) – Quantifying Judicial Decisions

    Holger Spamman (Harvard Law School) – Comparative Empirical Research

    James Greiner (Harvard Law School) – Randomized Controlled Trials in the Research of Legal Problems

  • 2013-2014 (Coordinator and founder: Netta Barak-Corren)

    Michael Heise (Cornell Law School) – Quantitative Research in Law

    James Greiner  (Harvard Law School) – A Typology of Empirical Methods in Law

    Susan Silbey (MIT) – Interviews: An Introductory Workshop

    David Wilkins (Harvard Law School) – Mixed Methods Work and the Legal Profession

    Tom Tyler (Yale Law School) – Fairness and Policing