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VU RCH researchers participate in national ELS congress

18 March 2021
On Friday, February 5th, the first congress of the Dutch Platform Empirical Legal Studies (ELS) took place. Due to corona it was an online event. 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.

The online conference started with a pre-recorded introduction video in which all participating universities introduced themselves. After the videos, Jessie Pool (PhD student and member of the ELS team in Leiden) took over to present the three themes and their associated problem statements. The ELS researchers then went straight to work in parallel breakout rooms. The aim was to come up with a relevant research question and choose appropriate empirical methodology.

The breakout rooms were moderated by assistant professors, including VU Law colleagues Maša Galič and Dion Kramer. Dion Kramer explains: ''It was the task of the six novice PhD students in my breakout room to think about suitable methods for an investigation into the legal feasibility and legitimacy of alternatives to our current bureaucratic and strictly regulated social benefit system. This gave us a chance to think about 'traditional' legal research and the added value of 'empirical' methods, such as surveys, vignettes, interviews or discourse analysis''.  For Dion himself, the conference was a nice opportunity to share his own experiences with empirical methods with researchers who are at the beginning of their PhD program.

Right after the interactive part, the ELS researchers, including VU Law PhD students Tessa van der Rijst, Coen Hoekstra and Rieneke Stelma-Roorda, listened to a few presentations. Tessa van der Rijst especially gained new insights and ideas during the presentation of Nina Holvast. ''The best part of the day for me was the presentation by Nina Holvast of Erasmus University in Rotterdam: 'Researching a hidden actor: the role and influence of judicial assistants in Dutch courts'. The presentation of Nina was very captivating and clear. Moreover, her research topic and especially the design of both her PhD and the subsequent postdoc, were very relevant for my own research,'' Tessa explained.

The last part of the program 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 shot 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 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. 

 ''I was a carefully prepared day that can be very useful and interesting, especially for the first-year ELS PhD student,'' Tessa van der Rijst summarizes. That she missed out on the main prize of the pub quiz - the new book by Kees van den Bos - was something Tessa took for granted.