Growing Up in Law and Society: The Pulls of Policy and Methods

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This article begins by tracing the aspirations and training that led to Lempert's commitment to the field of law and social science and includes comments on prominent figures in the field, the emergence of empirical legal studies, and other matters. It may interest scholars who seek to understand the history of the field's revival, and those who were among the first generation of Law and Society Association members may see some of their own experience in Lempert's account. The article then discusses policy uses of law and social science research and cautions against the possibility that a study's policy appeal may exceed the weight that can fairly be put on it. Five studies are used as examples: Wilson and Kelling's essay on “broken windows,” Sherman and Berk's work on arrest for spouse abuse, Ehrlich's article on the deterrent effects of the death penalty, Lott and Mustard's work on right-to-carry laws, and Sander's mismatch critique of affirmative action. The article concludes by emphasizing the importance to policy of understanding mechanism and the need for sophistication in the soft methods of study design, along with a good understanding of formal statistics.