New Center Builds on UVA Law’s Strengths in Empirical Studies

Rich Hynes and graphic

Professor Rich Hynes, whose scholarship focuses on bankruptcy law, consumer credit, and law and economics, directs the new Center for Empirical Studies in Law. Photos by Julia Davis and iStock 

October 3, 2022

The new Center for Empirical Studies in Law at the University of Virginia School of Law will support and showcase the work of faculty who use data to better understand the law and help train the next generation of lawyers in empirical techniques.

Professor Rich Hynes will serve as the inaugural director. Hynes, the John Allan Love Professor of Law and the Nicholas E. Chimicles Research Professor of Business Law and Regulation, holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania as well as a J.D. from the University of Chicago. His scholarship focuses on bankruptcy law, consumer credit, and law and economics.

Hynes said rapid advances in analytical techniques and the availability of data are allowing scholars to “test empirical assumptions that lie at the heart of a wide variety of legal debates.”

He explained that empirical analysis includes many different methods such as qualitative analysis of surveys, laboratory experiments, computational analysis of text, regression analysis and simple descriptive statistics.

Hynes said the center’s breadth of faculty demonstrates how strong the school is in this area.

“We are fortunate to have experts trained in empirical methodology from a variety of disciplines and focused on a variety of subject matters,” he said.

Many of the center’s affiliated faculty have doctorates in economics, finance, political science and psychology. Their empirical analysis focuses on topics ranging from corporate law to constitutional law to criminal law and beyond. The center’s faculty include Michal Barzuza, Kevin Cope, Quinn Curtis, Joshua Fischman, Mitu Gulati, Andrew Hayashi, Cathy Hwang, Rich Hynes, Jason S. Johnston, David S. Law, Michael Livermore, Paul G. Mahoney, Gregory Mitchell, John T. Monahan, Dotan Oliar, Bertrall RossBarbara A. Spellman, Megan T. Stevenson, Pierre-Hugues Verdier and Mila Versteeg (see a list of their recent scholarship below).

“This diversity creates a stimulating intellectual environment as we are able to learn from different approaches as well as offer constructive criticism to each other,” he added.  

In addition to producing scholarship on these topics, the Center for Empirical Studies in Law will also work to educate students in the kind of empirical analysis that plays an increasingly prominent role in politics and litigation.

The school has long offered a quantitative methods course that is useful beyond academia, Hynes said. Other courses available this year are Social Science in Law, Law and Economics, Behavioral Law and Economics, Constitutional Law and Economics, and Truth, Lies and Statistics for Lawyers, among others.

“Empirical methods are frequently used in litigation,” Hynes explained. “For example, regressions are often used to try to prove discrimination or to estimate damages in securities litigation. Lawyers who advocate for legal change also need to understand these methods because they are frequently used in the public policy arena.”

The center will sponsor events that advance scholarly research that uses empirical methods, including the 16th annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies on Nov. 3-5 — an event that brings hundreds of scholars from around the world. Three of the center’s members — Barzuza, Cope and Curtis — are leading this effort and serve on the board of directors of the Society for Empirical Legal Studies.

Hynes said the center will engage with other UVA faculty members producing related work on Grounds. In the past, faculty in the center have co-authored work with faculty in the Department of Economics and the McIntire School of Commerce.

A Center for Empirical Scholarship

Recent empirical papers by UVA Law faculty include:

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