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Exploring The Depth Of Legal Research: Doctrinal And Non Doctrinal Research Approaches

Legal research forms the bedrock of a just and equitable legal system. It allows us to understand, interpret, and apply the law effectively. Two primary method of legal research, doctrinal and non doctrinal, play a distinct yet complementary roles in shaping our understanding of the legal landscape.

In this article, we will delve into these two approaches ,providing illustration and suitable cases to highlight their importance and applications.

Meaning Of Research And Legal Research
Research is a systematic process of inquiry and investigation aimed at acquiring knowledge, understanding, or solving a particular problem or question. It involves gathering and analyzing information, data, and evidence to draw conclusions.

According to Collis and Hussey," Research is basically a systematic, thorough and rigorous process of investigation that increases knowledge."

Legal research is a specialized form of research focused on the study and analysis of legal principles, laws ,cases, and other legal materials. It is typically conducted within the context of legal system and aims to address legal questions, resolve legal issues, support legal arguments, or provide guidance for legal decision- making.

Legal researchers , such as lawyers, legal scholars, and law students, engage in legal research to find relevant legal precedents, statutes, and case laws, and to apply them to specific legal situations. Legal research is the fundamental to the practice of law and the development of legal scholarship.

Doctrinal And Non-Doctrinal Research

Doctrinal Research

Doctrinal Research is the traditional and foundational method of legal inquiry. It is also called as the "Armchair Research" or " Pure Theoretical Research ". It involves a systematic study of legal principles, statutes, cases, and precedents. This approach analyzes existing legal materials to draw conclusions and make predictions about legal outcomes.

It is essentially a library based study with objective of discovering, explaining, etc. on a certain law in a systematic manner to develop new facts, theories, principles, concepts, etc. from the study.

Illustration :Contract Law
Consider a case involving a breach of contract. Doctrinal research would involve examining relevant statutes, and previous court decisions to determine how contract law has been interpret and applied in similar cases.

Case Law : " Hadley VS. Baxendale" [1854]
In the landmark case of "Hadley VS. Baxendale" the English Court established a fundamental principle in contract law. This case involved the late delivery of a broken mill shaft, causing financial losses to the plaintiff. The Court held that damages for breach of contract should only be recoverable if they were foreseeable at the time the contract formed. This precedent set a doctrinal foundation for foreseeability as the key element in contract law.

Non-Doctrinal Research

Non-doctrinal research, on the other hand, goes beyond the confines of statutes and case law. This research is also called The Socio-Legal Research whereby a research question is answered by way of data interpretation.

It is basically law reform based. In this type of research , researcher can perform inter-disciplinary research studies and analyze law from the other sciences perspective and thereby formulate a new law. It is same as sociolegal research.

Illustration: Criminal justice Reform
Imagine researching criminal justice reform, non doctrinal research would involve conducting surveys, interviews, analyze reports, to gather data on the experience of individuals within the criminal justice .

Case Law: "The Stanford Prison Experiment" [1971]
The Stanford Prison Experiment", led by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, is a classic example of non- doctrinal research in the legal field. This study simulated a prison environment and observed the psychological and behavioral effects on participants.

Difference Between Doctrinal And Non-Doctrinal Research

doctrinal research is concerned with legal propositions and doctrines . While non-doctrinal research concerned with people, social values and social institutions.
in doctrinal method, source of data are legal and appellate court decisions. While in non doctrinal method, source of data are less and mostly new techniques.
doctrinal research has narrow scope of study. While non-doctrinal research has broader scope of study.

doctrinal research does not concerned with people but with documents and so called as library research or theoretical research. While in non-doctrinal research the most important entity are people and society and also called sociolegal research.

In the realm of legal research, both doctrinal and non-doctrinal approaches play vital roles. Doctrinal research provides the foundation by analyzing existing legal materials, while non-doctrinal research broadens our perspective by exploring the real-world impact of the law.

  1. Hadley VS. Baxendale & Others[1854] EWHC J70
  2. The Stanford Prison Experiment [1971] {SPE}
  3. Legal Education & Research Methodology, Dr Sheetal Kanwal, Amar Law Publication, Ed. 2017

Written By: Shaloo Arya

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