Current BELS Research

Current BELS Research

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• Berkeley Law Faculty and CSLS affiliated Faculty
• Graduate Students in the Ph.D. Program in Jurisprudence and Social Policy
• Researchers at the 12 multidisciplinary centers at Berkeley Law
• Visiting Scholars at the Center for the Study of Law and Society and other Berkeley Law Centers….   

Here we provide a venue where all can view the amazing breadth of subject matter and diversity of data and methods in the empirical projects being undertaken at Berkeley Law. 

Project Titles (listed alphabetically) and Principal Investigators are provided on this main page, along with a very brief project description.  By clicking on the Project Title you will link to longer (300 word) descriptions of each project.  These brief narratives include descriptions of data and methods of analysis as well as what the study is about, and, where applicable, information on funding and on publications of the project to date.

UC Berkeley faculty, doctoral students, researchers and visiting scholars who have current and recent empirical legal research projects to include here should contact Rosann Greenspan, CSLS executive director, at

Balancing Understandings and Mandating Consensus
PI: Antoinette Hetzler (Lund University, Sweden; CSLS Visiting Scholar)

This project looks at the consequences of legislating administrative practices. In an effort to reduce rapidly expanding sick rolls, the Swedish Government passed detailed laws regulating the behavior of social insurance administrators. This study examines 3066 randomly selected cases of terminated long-term illness in Sweden 2005, two years after the laws were introduced.

Compliance with Voluntary Private Regimes of Global Governance:  The Case of the Equator Principles and Sustainable Project Finance
PI: Ariel Meyerstein (PhD Candidate, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

This research aims to describe the implementation process of a voluntary private regime of global governance, the Equator Principles (EPs), by large private commercial banks.  The research will utilize a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to detail the implementation process and measure institutional change within the subject institutions, which may serve as a proxy for measuring the effectiveness of the regime.

Consumer Privacy Survey Research Project
PIs: Chris Jay Hoofnagle (Berkeley Law, Berkeley Center for Law and Technology) and Jennifer King (Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic)

This survey research project explores three critical issues overlooked by for-profit firms: the gap between consumers’ knowledge and actual privacy laws and practices, the tradeoffs consumers are willing to make for privacy protections, and the privacy-seeking behavior that consumers engage in. 

Copyright Law and Creative Practice in Jamaica 
PI: Larisa Mann (PhD Candidate, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

Jamaican musical practices conflict with many underlying assumptions in current Jamaican copyright law. Using ethnographic and interviewing methods, including data from Jamaicans who have relocated to the major non-Jamaican sites of music-making, this project will generate information about the dynamics between copyright law and creators, and will provide a basis for theorizing the relationship between copyright law and creative practice.

Development and Validation of Predictors of Lawyer Effectiveness for Use in Law School Admission Decision-Making
PIs: Marjorie Shultz (Berkeley Law) and Sheldon Zedeck (UC Berkeley, Psychology)

This project explores the prediction of lawyering effectiveness for use in law school admission decisions.  In a multi-year, multi-layered project, the research team conducted interviews, focus groups and surveys of Boalt Hall alumni, developed tests of lawyers’ effectiveness, and tested Boalt and Hastings alumni using the new tests, which were found to be more highly correlated with lawyers’ performance than was the LSAT.

Exploring Work Responses to Taxation
PIs: David Gamage (Berkeley Law), Andrew Hayashi (UC Berkeley, Economics), Brent K. Nakamura (PhD Student, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

This experiment examines the labor supply response to different forms of taxation.  The experimental and controlled setting of the X-Lab will be used to study the effect of different forms of taxation (holding the amount of taxation constant) abstracted from the complexities associated with taxation and working (e.g. how different forms of income are taxed differently, what is done with taxes, available tax credits and deductions, etc.) and explore the effect of such taxation forms on work-effort and work-leisure decisionmaking.

From Civil Rights to Multiculturalism: Political and Legal Incorporation of Language Minorities in the United States
PI: Ming Hsu Chen (PhD Candidate, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

How did regulatory agencies manage to expand upon rights enacted in federal civil rights legislation from 1964-79 to produce a minority rights revolution? Using language rights as a proxy for political and legal integration of Asians and Latinos in the civil rights era, I
use in-depth interviews and archival research to explain the process by which language rights developed in the absence of statutory mandates in three settings: education, employment and voting. 

Guantánamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Former Detainees
PIs: Laurel Fletcher (Berkeley Law; Director, International Human Rights Clinic) and Eric Stover (Berkeley Law)

A collaboration of the International Human Rights Law Clinic and Human Rights Center, this project is the first systematic, empirical study to document the impact of U.S. policy on former Guantánamo detainees. This two-year study uses qualitative and quantitative methods to compile a comprehensive picture of this population, concentrating on their treatment in U.S. custody and the long-term impact of their detention on the detainees, their families, and their communities.

Historical Hawaii Court Records: Criminal Procedure and Plea Bargaining in Hawaii in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century
PIs: Malcolm M. Feeley (Berkeley Law) & Brent K. Nakamura (PhD Student, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

This study aims to examine the historical lineage and operation of plea bargaining in historical Hawaii Courts during the Hawaiian Monarchy, territorial period, early statehood period, and beyond (1840s to 1990s).  Through examining criminal cases and exploring statistical trends in those cases via regression and descriptive statistics, we are looking to explore the development and operation of the plea bargaining system in Hawaii. 

How Does Law Matter in Social Movements? A Case Study of the Gay Movement in Singapore
PI: Lynette J. Chua (PhD Candidate, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

This qualitative, empirical project aims to expand empirical and theoretical knowledge on the role of law in social movements, and to enrich the sociological understanding of legal consciousness and legal power at a collective level in a non-Western-democratic society by investigating the gay movement in the postcolonial state of Singapore, using intensive interviews, field observations, and primary documents.

The Institutional Context of Civil Rights
PI: Catherine Albiston (Berkeley Law)

This project examines how social institutions constrain rights mobilization, focusing primarily on rights to family and medical leave.  Theoretically, this work draws on new institutionalist and social constructivist theories in sociology to understand how work as a social institution shapes the meaning of leave rights in the workplace and in the courts.  Empirically, the project involves analyzing qualitative interview data from workers who negotiated leaves, doctrinal analysis of how social institutions affect judicial reasoning around leave rights, and quantitative analysis of how the litigation process affects the distribution and outcome of leave claims and precedental opinions.

Judicial Deference to Institutionalized Employment Practices
PIs: Lauren Edelman (Berkeley Law; Director, Center for the Study of Law and Society), Linda Krieger (Berkeley Law & University of Hawaii), Scott Eliason (University of Arizona), Catherine Albiston (Berkeley Law)

This project explores how and to what extent institutionalized employment practices (such as common grievance mechanisms, behavioral rules, and pay structures) influence judicial thinking about what constitutes compliance in the civil rights context.  Our data come from detailed content coding of a probability sample of 1024 federal civil rights decisions from 1965-1999. We use multivariate probit models to assess determinants of judicial deference over time and qualitative methods to assess the nature of judicial deference.

Law, Normative Discrimination, and the Caretaker Penalty
PIs: Catherine Albiston (Berkeley Law), Shelley Correll (Stanford)

This project uses experimental methods to study whether legal prohibitions against discriminating against caretakers can change negative normative judgments about working mothers and workers who use leave.  The project also investigates whether these legal prohibitions can change employment outcomes for these workers, and the relationship between normative judgments and these outcomes. 

Legal and Policy Research on Regulating China’s Administrative Monopoly: A Comparative Study from the Perspective of the Integration of Commerce and Finance in China and Other Countries
PI: Jin Sun (Wuhan University; CSLS Visiting Scholar)

In spite of China’s enforcement of the Anti-Monopoly Law (AMA) in August 2008, the issue of how to effectively regulate administrative monopoly remains the most serious challenge. I approach this issue from various perspectives including game theory, comparative study (with the US, EU and Japan), positive analysis (fieldwork in the Ministry of Commerce and five large-scale state-owned enterprise) and economic analysis. I hope to shed light on how to regulate administrative monopoly effectively by drawing lessons from legislative and judicial experiences in the US and EU.

Measuring Identity Theft
PIs: Chris Jay Hoofnagle (Berkeley Law; Berkeley Center for Law & Technology)

As part of a multiple strategy approach to obtaining more actionable data on identity theft, the Freedom of Information Act is used to obtain complaint data submitted by victims in 2006-2008 to the Federal Trade Commission.  Proprietary and federal bank regulator data were used to create comparative fraud ranks at leading US companies, focusing on major banks, retailers, and telecommunications companies. 

Networks of Fairness Review in Corporate Law and Networks of Heightened Scrutiny in Corporate Law
PI: Reza Dibadj (USF Law; Visiting Professor, Berkeley Law)

The fairness doctrine, as well as other standards of heightened judicial scrutiny in corporate law, are rhetorically impressive.  But in cases where courts discuss these standards, how often have plaintiffs actually won?  Are some cases more important than others in promulgating doctrine? This series of two articles uses a tool new to the legal literature—network analysis—to perform an empirical study of doctrines of fairness and heightened scrutiny as developed by the Delaware Supreme Court and the Delaware Court of Chancery.

The Origins and Functions of Independent Agencies in the European Union
PIs:  Martin Shapiro (Berkeley Law)
Independent Agencies have proliferated enormously in the EU and in its member states. The agencies produce an enormous amount of information about their activities on line.  Stage One of the research involves mining this archival data to get a picture of the who, what, how, when and where of the EU agencies. Stage Two will use the same plus national materials to chart the formal relationships between the EU agencies and the EU Council and Commission and relevant national government units.  Stage Three will involve deriving testable hypotheses on why independent agencies proliferated which will be used to guide further research (interviews, etc.) on this question. 

The Practice of Law in Public Interest Law Organizations
PIs: Catherine Albiston (Berkeley Law), Laura Beth Nielsen (Northwestern)

This is a multiyear empirical study of public interest law organizations and the legal profession.  The project developed and surveyed a national random sample of more than 200 organizations across the ideological spectrum and across many different practice areas.  Our research seeks to explain variation in strategy, structure and mission across these organizations, including differences across ideological boundaries, practice areas, and over time. 

Race, Ethnicity, and Gender at Eastern State Penitentiary: A Study of the Variation in Sentence Length, 1829-1871
PI: Ashley T. Aubuchon-Rubin (PhD Student, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

This project examines the influence of skin color, nativity and nationality, and gender on the length of prison sentences in nineteenth-century Pennsylvania. The data consist of the criminal and demographic characteristics of over 7,000 inmates sentenced to Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary between 1829 and 1871. Using a combination of ordinary least squares methods, fixed effects models, and differences-in-differences models to first determine whether the sentences of female, non-white, or non-native inmates differed systematically different from those of native white inmates, we then determine the effect of particular interactions (first-timer offenders/recidivists, age group, violent crime/property crime, etc.) with being a member of a particular group . The study will provide insight into the longevity of the disparities trend apparent in our current criminal justice system and enable penal historians to better understand the nature of the penal project with respect to marginalized groups.

Renegotiation of Cash Flow Rights in the Sale of VC-Backed Firms
PIs: Brian Broughman (Berkeley Law), Jesse Fried (Berkeley Law)

Incomplete contracting theory suggests that venture capital (‘VC’) cash flow rights – including liquidation preferences – may be subject to renegotiation. Using a hand-collected dataset of sales of Silicon Valley firms, we find common shareholders do sometimes receive payment before VCs’ liquidation preferences are satisfied. However, such deviations tend to be small. We also find that renegotiation is more likely when governance arrangements, including the firm’s choice of corporate law, give common shareholders power to impede the sale. Our study provides support for incomplete contracting theory, improves understanding of VC exits, and suggests that choice of corporate law matters in private firms.

Research Network on Mandated Community Treatment
PI: John Monahan (University of Virginia; CSLS Visiting Scholar)

Many people with mental disorder become involved with one or another aspect of the judicial system. The Research Network on Mandated Community Treatment is engaged in conducting empirical research on how frequently different types of leverage are used, how the process of applying leverage operates, and what the outcomes of leveraged treatment are–for the individual, for the mental health system, and for society.

Research on the Policy and Legal Environment of Chinese Female College Students Facing Discrimination in Employment, With a Focus on Hubei Province
PIs: Jin Sun (Wuhan University; CSLS Visiting Scholar) and Ping LUO (Wuhan University)

Employing legal and sociological approaches, we distributed questionnaires, conducted interviews, and used archival materials to perform a comprehensive analysis of female college students facing employment discrimination and then proposed some solutions to the problems.

SB 27, The Shine the Light Law
PIs: Chris Jay Hoofnagle (Berkeley Law, Berkeley Center for Law and Technology) and Jennifer King (Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic)

Information privacy laws typically include a transparency function that enables individuals to learn about the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information.  To explore businesses’ compliance with transparency duties, the authors, using a California privacy law (SB 27, the Shine the Light Law), made requests to 86 companies for a disclosure of information sharing practices. 

School Rights Project: How the Media Frames and Shapes the Legal Environments of Schools
PIs: Brent K. Nakamura (PhD Student, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program), Lauren Edelman (Berkeley Law), Calvin Morrill (Berkeley Law; Director, Center for the Study of Law and Society), Richard Arum (New York University), and Karolyn Tyson (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)

This study examines how the media frames the socio-legal environment and how, through this framing, the media shapes meaning and culture in specific regional sites. Drawing on a random sample of a decade of local newspaper and national reports from 1997 to 2007 from three sites in California, New York, and North Carolina as well as from national newspapers, and exploring articles covering a broad range of topics dealing with education law, politics, and policy, we aim to characterize the informal legal environment in which students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members, and politicians understand, perceive, and mobilize their legal rights in and around schools in the United States, which varies substantially across regions despite the relatively
uniformity of federal law.

School Rights Project: Law and the Dynamics of Everyday School Life
PIs: Richard Arum (New York University), Lauren Edelman (Berkeley Law), Calvin Morrill (Berkeley Law; Director, Center for the Study of Law and Society) and Karolyn Tyson (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)

This study examines how law and social inequality influence the dynamics of everyday school life in public, private, and charter high schools in California, New York, and North Carolina. Focusing on three arenas of legal regulation that are central to schools — discipline, civil rights (including sexual harassment) and free speech — the study specifically examines: (1) how law matters in the everyday practices within and around schools; (2) how school actors (students, teachers, and administrators) understand and interpret law and rights in schools; and (3) when and how school actors mobilize (or do not mobilize) their legal rights. We use surveys of students, teachers, and school administrators to examine, via multivariate analysis, the individual-level determinants of rights consciousness and legal mobilization in response to perceived rights violations in schools, and comparative ethnographic field data to tease out the interpretive and interactional mechanisms that help explain why and how these processes occur.

Social Obstacles to Exercising Mandated Leave Rights
PIs: Catherine Albiston (Berkeley Law), Ruth Milkman (UCLA)

This project investigates the factors that cause workers not to mobilize the family and medical leave rights that are available to them, including financial, institutional, and interpersonal reasons.  The project involves semi-structured interviews with approximately 100 California residents who indicated, in response to a state-wide random digit dial survey, that they did not take paid family leave to which they were entitled under California’s paid leave law. 

Survey on the Rights of Minority Children who PolishSshoes in the Capital of Xinjiang and Comprehensive Intervention and Relief Operations by Society
PIs: Jin Sun (Wuhan University; CSLS Visiting Scholar) and Gang Luo (Xinjiang University)

About 300 ethnic minority children come from agricultural and pastoral areas of Xinjiang to the capital Urumqi, living on polishing shoes on the streets. Law students from Wuhan University and Xinjiang university conduct interviews with these children and find out the causes of their discontinuation of education and shoe-polishing on the streets. The goal is to seek support from local government and society, protect these children’s rights of the person and education, return them to school, and promote this model of aiding and protecting children in Xinjiang.

Talking Law: Lawyers and Clients in the Everyday Business of Law
PI:  Livia Holden (Griffith University, Australia; CSLS Visiting Scholar)

This research investigates lawyering as the co-constructed and dynamic outcome of the negotiation between clients and legal services related with state-, non-state, and mixed sources of law. The data is collected through qualitative, intensive, longitudinal, ethnographic fieldwork and employs participant observation, un-structured interviews, and collaborative filmmaking. I have investigated the role of custom in the daily practice of dispute settlement in Central India, the praxis of defence lawyers specializing with organized crime in Southern Italy, Hindu practices of divorce in India and their implications in transnational cases in the UK and in USA. I am at present extending this research to other sites.

Towards a Modern Theory of the Professions in Conflict: A Study of the Attitudes and Perceptions of First- and Third-Year Medical Students of Medical Malpractice Liability
PI: Brent K. Nakamura (PhD Student, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

This study looks to empirically capture and examine the attitudes and perceptions of first- and third-year medical students at a major Midwestern university medical school.  By using detailed surveys administered directly to two sets of first- and third-year medical students, which achieved an average response rate of 93.5% for first-years and 68.7% of third-years, the study examines the response of the medical profession to contestation over its shared and shifting border with the legal profession through the topical space of medical malpractice liability.

The Transitional Justice Social Movement: Truth Commission Agenda Setting
PIs: Jamie Rowen (PhD Student, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

This project explores how and to what extent different social movement organizations influence policy makers who design truth commissions to redress past violence. My data will come from government documents, organization reports, qualitative interviews and ethnographic fieldwork. I will use comparative case analysis to create a typology of truth commissions and assess the changes in truth commission mandate and design over time.

The 2008 UC Berkeley-Kauffman Foundation Patents & Entrepreneurship Survey
PIs: Pamela Samuelson (Berkeley Law; Director, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology), Robert P. Merges (Berkeley Law; Director, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology)
Other Investigators: Robert Barr (Executive Director, Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, Stuart Graham (Berkeley Center for Law & Technology), Ted Sichelman (Berkeley Center for Law & Technology)

This project is, to our knowledge, the first survey in the United States to investigate how entrepreneurs and start-up companies use, and are affected by, the U.S. patent system. The survey sample includes 12,000 early-stage and start-up companies in the biotech, medical device, IT/software/internet, and cleantech industries. Initial publications and a conference on the results are planned for 2009.

Unequal under the Law: The Irrational and Uneven Impact of Medical Malpractice Damage Caps
PI: Brent K. Nakamura (PhD Student, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

This is a quantitative empirical study of 21,389 cases (1990-2004) of medical malpractice insurance claims from the Texas Department of Insurance’s closed claims database and simulation of the effects of the imposition in 2003 of a hard $250,000 cap on non-economic malpractice damages on those cases. This study identifies significant risks in terms of decreased and uneven access to the civil justice system for vulnerable claimant-plaintiff groups irrationally sorted by the arbitrary impact of the malpractice cap.

Unprecedented:  The Politics and Effects of Unpublished Opinion Rules
PIs: Catherine Albiston (Berkeley Law) and Pamela Coukos (PhD Candidate, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program)

This project investigates how rules regarding noncitation of unpublished authority influence the development of employment discrimination law.  Factors investigated include how variation in publication rules across circuits affects publication rates of decisions in these cases, as well as how judicial ideology, and panel composition regarding judicial ideology, affect both outcome and publication of these decisions. 

Where Have All the Women Gone? The Decline in Women in the Criminal Process—An Historical and Comparative Analysis
PIs: Malcolm M. Feeley (Berkeley Law) and Hadar Aviram (UC Hastings College of Law)

Conventional thinking in the social sciences, based almost entirely on contemporary data sources, holds that crime is overwhelmingly male behavior.  Our study subjects this belief to historical and comparative analysis.  Examining court records and related archival sources in England, the Netherlands, France, the Scandinavian countries, and elsewhere for various periods between 1600 and 1900, we found that in some places and at some times women constituted up to 50% or more of those charged with serious crimes. We relate this high proportion and subsequent decline in the proportion of women charged in the criminal process to a shift from public to private forms of patriarchy during early industrial capitalism.

Who Migrates and Why: Plyler v. Doe in the Modern Era
PIs: Ming Hsu Chen (PhD Candidate, Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program) and Nicholas Espiritu

In 1982 in Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court discounted education as a factor in immigrants’ decisions to enter illegally.  To explore this assumption, we conducted interviews with 25 Mexican migrants in California about their migration decisions.  We found that the majority of respondents came in response to economic disparities between the U.S. and Mexico, rendering as a reasonable assumption that educational opportunity is not the primary reason for migration.

Women, Long Term Sick Absences and Exclusion from the Labor Force
PI:  Antoinette Hetzler  (Lund University, Sweden; CSLS Visiting Scholar)

The purpose of this project was through the use of two different longitudinal populations assess why women to a greater degree than men find themselves on long-term sick leave and what this means for their risk of permanent exclusion from the Swedish labor force.  The research uses both quantitative and qualitative methods. Two populations with terminated long-term sick leave cases from 1990-93 (8000 cases) and 2001-02 (4000 cases) together with follow-up surveys are the basis of the study. Interviews were used to complement the quantitative material.

Youth Conflict and Control in High Schools
PIs: Calvin Morrill (Berkeley Law; Director, Center for the Study of Law and Society) and Michael Musheno (San Francisco State University and Distinguished Affiliated Scholar, Center for the Study of Law and Society)

This project uses a multiethnic high school as a strategic case in which to investigate how youth handle everyday conflict amidst changes in criminal justice and school control policies. Based on more than a decade of qualitative (ethnography, in-depth interviews, narratives and visual representations) and quantitative data (police call and demographic data), we find that students primarily handle conflict peacefully, but that policies (e.g., “safe schools” and “zero tolerance”) aimed at tight control of everyday youth activities and movements on campus can unintentionally increase the conditions for violent and racially-charged conflict.