Jul 10, 2020 19:35 UTC
Jul 10, 2020 at 20:00 UTC
FUNDAMENTALS OF LEGAL RESEARCH AND LEGAL RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
An Interview with Ms. Bhavna Sharma
Ms. Bhavna Sharma is a graduate of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi and post-grad. from Jamia Millia Islamia, currently pursuing her PhD from RML National Law University, Lucknow. She has worked with Competition Advisory, Infosys, National Consumer Commission, and many such organizations and authorities. Currently, she is associated as a Senior fellow with NGO FLAIR. Recently she has launched her second book titled, “FUNDAMENTALS OF LEGAL RESEARCH AND LEGAL RESEARCH METHODOLOGY”.
Hi Bhavna, Congratulations on your book, as far as the research and content go, it’s an excellent work on the subject. Writing a textbook on research methodology, I believe, must have been a colossal task. As far as I am aware, research methodology is the most prominent subject in the PG curriculum, yet the most neglected one, I would call for your perspective on this. Is the book specifically for the post-graduate students, or would it be helpful for the undergrads also?
Thank you. As you rightly pointed, Research Methodology forms the most significant part in the PG course curriculum; nevertheless, the most neglected one. Not only in the Indian PG curriculum, but research methodology also is one of the core subjects taught in foreign universities as part of all semesters. Students generally assume that after having completed their 5/3 years in graduation, they must have accumulated good research stints, which is not the case most of the time. Research is a skill that has to be developed with time. Research needs to be done following some conventional and unconventional methodology that has been established to produce an authentic result. In legal research and especially in bringing authenticity to research work, one has to use specific tools and techniques to analyze the data and use a methodology for getting innovative results.
In my book, I have compendiously included all such techniques and tools used in research. It wasn’t easy to comprehensively collect and analyze all the tools and techniques; nonetheless, I wanted to bring forth a comprehensive text on this neglected subject of research and methodology. It took me more than two years to write this book, and I believe that my efforts would be useful to many upcoming minds in the legal fraternity who wants to produce innovative results through their research work.
As the name of my book suggests “FUNDAMENTALS OF LEGAL RESEARCH AND LEGAL RESEARCH METHODOLOGY“, I have incorporated all the fundamental principles of research, from historical tools to contemporary techniques. The idea is to equip the readers with the old and new approaches to research techniques and methods used in accomplishing research work and make my readers easily understand the basic norms of legal research.
I want to dedicate this book to every law student, whether an undergrad or Postgrad and beyond. It’s basically for everyone who wants to develop a basic understanding of the research tools and grasp the basics of legal research methodology. Not only in law, but my book could also find room for students of other streams in Arts and Humanities.
Indian universities have often been criticized for lacking on the research fronts and promoting puppetry rather than rational thinking minds. What has been your experience in your journey so far? Is it really the case?
Well, I would say that Indian universities have started developing research-based studies and ideas. If you take the example of a foreign university, each course provided in a foreign university is either delivered in the form of a taught course or a research-based course. For example, an LLM course in a foreign university is either LLM (taught) or LLM (Research), and one may opt as per his/her interest. Both these taught/research courses have a different way of teaching and follow a different ideology. In India, Universities generally follow the taught based approach in all their courses. Nevertheless, we can now see a surge in the number of research-based studies being conducted in Indian universities. For example, recently, the Delhi University has announced an initiative – ‘Research without barrier’ under the banner of the institution of Eminence. It is a major and novel initiate to give a flip to the University’s research profile. This initiative is aimed to define new contours of widening the research catchment, change the way research is perceived and carried out, and democratize and expand the research space. The initiative envisages promoting research among the wider community of individuals, who can concretize the ideas and excel through transforming those ideas into actionable solutions and applications.
In India, it has now become important to break the disciplinary silos, institutional barriers, and geographical boundaries. Universities should resolve to priorities robust research programs. Currently, the major issue is with the quality of research conducted at centers for excellence and participation of students, including expert guidance concerning research methodology. On this front, my book solves the purpose of teaching students the tools and techniques used in conducting research work to give better authenticity to research work.
What all are the necessary tools that one shall need to accomplish a research work, and more specifically a socio-legal research? Also, does socio-legal research serve any purpose, given the political trend disregarding any research reports while formulating policies?
Adopting a particular research methodology and thereby, choosing appropriate tools primarily depends on the subject-matter of the research, and the type of research that a researcher wants to perform, whether an empirical work or doctrinal research. Similarly, research tools involve deciding on whether the researcher wants to do fundamental research, historical or experimental research, etc. Appropriate tools may then be used to collect and analyze relevant data. Various techniques such as interviews, observations, case studies, surveys, etc may be adopted as a tool for data collection looking at the subject-matter of research. Picking up the tools further has its requirements. For example, if one takes up the interview method as a tool for data collection, then he/she needs to equip himself/herself with forming a well-researched questionnaire depending upon the sample size. A researcher has to use a different tool for data collection and its implication depends upon the type of research.
In Socio-legal research, the researcher can use tools like case studies, conduct interviews, observations, survey, etc. One should keep in mind to prepare a blue print of the research before hand, following proper steps such as the formation of problem, literature review, hypothesis, research design, data collection, and analysis, reporting, validity test, etc. The researcher has to generally focus on acceptability, reliability, generality, and validity of the data collected. The researcher also has to select an appropriate sampling design – whether random, or systematic, or stratified or cluster sampling. As socio-legal research takes us closer to the prevailing societal issues and the failure of existing law, it is important to follow either multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approach. Sadly, many a time, research efforts undertaken have no relevance to contemporary social and national problems and suffer from a lack of proper analysis of phenomena and synthesis of facts.
Do you think Indian educational institutions have the expertise and infrastructure required for conducting research?
I would say that most of the universities have good libraries and the material which can be well utilized for accomplishing research work. Moreover, with the availability of online databases, dedicated websites, and other materials available online, a researcher is much facilitated with easy access to updated content. One issue which I think is not yet addressed at the Universities/Institutes is the availability of expert researchers specializing in this domain. This must be addressed soon. Efforts are being made however it might take some more time.
How often have you seen research reports/Ph.D. theses being taken seriously, and seen the suggestions of such reports materializing in the form of some policy decisions? Also, tell us about how can we encourage students to choose this domain, given most of the educational institutions are rather modeled nowadays on a career-orientated curriculum?
Most of the policies announced by the Government have essentially been put up for public consultations. Stakeholders are given an appropriate opportunity to submit suggestions that many times are implemented in the policy. It might be interesting to know that the idea of Google was a Ph.D. thesis of Larry Page and Sergey Brin submitted to Stanford University in 1992. This itself would answer how important a research work/report or even Ph.D. theses can be.
Therefore, may it be research reports of an NGO, research institution or Ph.D. theses of an individual researcher, if the researcher has conducts a high-quality study and has provided immediate or future solutions to any existing problem, came up with some breakthrough idea or even has provided recommendations through the research work, his/her ideas have always been highlighted in news and have been taken seriously. Many times, even the Hon’ble Supreme Court and High Court have taken steps and directed the concerned authorities to consider a research report of an individual or an association/group. It’s all about the content of the research done following appropriate methodology, tools, and techniques.
Nowadays, every profession requires good research work. Researching on a subject-matter is part of every job, may it be a lawyer, a judge, a professor, or any other profession. Even, various Ministries, Tribunals, Think tanks, Commissions, Supreme Court/ High Courts regularly announce vacancies for Research Associates. This all will be more than just encouragement for any upcoming researcher.
What about the independent researchers who are not affiliated to any institution. Are there any scholarships or stipend avenues currently open for such candidates?
An independent researcher may approach an NGO working in the researcher’s field of interest. Such independent researchers must first develop a proper research proposal and highlight the existing issues that he/she wants to address. No doubt, conducting big research independently will be a tough task, and even if it is accomplished, the researched work might lack in covering a wide sampling, which would affect the reliability and authenticity of the research work. Nonetheless, if someone wants to work independently, there are various scholarships and fellowships for such researchers and students. UGC-JRF is one such widely acknowledged fellowship In India. Besides that, many fellowships support an independent researcher like – SBI Youth for India Fellowship, PCGT Good governance fellowship, CSJ’s young Professional Programme fellowship, Rajya Sabha & Lok Sabha Fellowship, etc. As already told, Delhi University has also invited research proposals from desirous individuals under the IoE scheme, where an independent researcher may approach for funding and guidance.
There are always ample opportunities for ingenious and dexterous researchers who are interested in solving an issue. What is essentially required is an innovative idea implemented through following proper research methodology, planning, and strategy.
Should the general literate population be educated about research methodology? Do you think legal research contributes to building an informed citizenry?
Research is the best way to become aware of anything. Spreading awareness among the citizenry is another step forward. As we can see, during this COVID-19 period, everyone is coming up with their solutions. Hilariously, the yoga-guru Ramdev advertising and claiming his so-called medicine to be 100% accurate in curing a corona infected patient has recently pleaded not making any such claim in the High Court, being in fear of being charged with false advertising. If the High Court would not have taken cognizance of the matter, every citizen would have trusted the baba blindly, without researching on the contents and effects of the medicine. The same goes for police arresting private persons, and illiteracy. If one is aware of the law, one would question the authorities. Therefore, in my opinion, everyone should be educated to at least develop a scientific temperament about everything, and develop their perspective through reading or conducting diversified research work. One must first read every point of view on a subject matter before taking any action.
Though, I don’t think the general literate population should be educated about research methodology. It would be something of a very high class for a general person. Using a research methodology is to conducting quality and innovative research. Also, this level of research can only be done when the researcher has a keen interest in the subject-matter. Therefore, educating the general literate population about research methodology might not do any good.
For students interested in the subject or the ones looking to hone up their skills, what resources would you suggest? Any suggestions for the research scholars and budding authors?
Research is a skill that has to be developed with time. Also, conducting research is very demanding and challenging at times. Constant efforts, daily learning, and being most updated on the subject matter has to be done to accomplish a good research work. A researcher should first understand the key concepts and principle tools and techniques used in legal research. My book essentially gives an understanding of such key concepts, tools, and techniques of research, and most importantly on how to perceive empirical and non-empirical research reports. A researcher should stay most updated on the subject-matter and must develop a global perspective on the subject-matter. For staying updated, a researcher must follow various reports of independent agencies like the Diplomat, OECD, WEF, WB, etc. A researcher should also start from understanding the research reports already available on the subject-matter and aim to develop one step ahead of such research, thereafter provide tailor-made solutions as per the needs and requirements of a particular area, class, etc.
Further, participation in national and foreign writing competitions helps in analyzing one’s level of research and writing skills. In the present time, resources are present in ample amount, but using the correct method to develop one’s work as authentic research work is rare.
I would suggest all research scholars and aspiring authors keep in mind the formula “SONA” which stands for Solution-oriented, Originality, Novelty, and Authenticity. Focusing on these four principles would bring more innovativeness, authenticity, and novelty in any research work.