On February 5th 2021, the first congress of the Dutch Platform Empirical Legal Studies (ELS) took place. The first meeting of the platform served to bring young, enthusiastic and driven ELS scholars together in a research community and enable them to learn more about empirical research in a legal context.
Participants from universities outside of the Netherlands could also attend the conference since the spoken language was English.
The various universities participating in the ELS Platform introduced themselves and their research groups via a short video. The more than 80 participants were then welcomed by Rianka Rijnhout (Utrecht University) and Helen Pluut (Leiden University). Jessie Pool, PhD candidate and member of the ELS team at Leiden Law School, kicked off the conference. She gave a short presentation about ELS and introduced three research themes with problem statements. The participants had to work with these themes in parallel breakout rooms, which were moderated by assistant professors. The aim was to come up with a relevant research question and choose appropriate empirical methodology. The workshops led to creative ideas that were exchanged in a plenary session.
After these interactive workshops, the participants could enjoy a lunch delivered to their homes. The afternoon session started with a presentation by Nina Holvast, Erasmus University, entitled ‘Researching a hidden actor: the role and influence of judicial assistants in Dutch courts’. In her presentation, she took the participants through the process of her recently published research and discussed the results. She elaborately discussed the various empirical research methods that she had used.
After a short break, Shosha Wiznitzer, PhD student at Utrecht University, gave a presentation entitled: ‘Combining surveys and interviews in a defensive medicine study: Why, how, and what (not) to do’. She discussed openly the challenges she encountered in her research and how she responded to them. A very instructive presentation for starting ELS researchers!
The last part of the programme was a live data analysis by Helen Pluut and Rianka Rijnhout. At the beginning of the conference, they had asked the participants to complete a short survey. They analysed the data on the spot by sharing their screens and discussed the preliminary results of the survey. It offered the participants a very insightful and accessible introduction to SPSS and NVivo.
It was an inspiring conference day with many different elements. Despite the online environment, there was a lot of interaction with and between the participants, creative ideas were exchanged, and interesting discussions took place. After the presentations, there was an opportunity to connect and get to know each other. In a virtual Wonder room, the participants enthusiastically joined in a pubquiz team battle while enjoying snacks and beverages that were delivered to their homes. The winning team received Kees van den Bos’ book Empirical Legal Research: A primer.