Postgraduate Research in Law

As I am preparing for the first thesis writing support group this Thursday, I was reminded by an acquaintance of some of the issues facing him in his plan in embarking on his PhD journey in law. He was asking for some forms of enlightenment from me 😉 ha..ha..ha… how flattering. But seriously, I am grateful if anything I write can help him and others out there pursuing knowledge.  Truthfully, whatever he is facing now, was somewhat similar to what I faced and felt back then, before I started my PhD. In fact, I think whatever he faced is ‘creepily’ the same as what I ‘suffered’ too.

Like him, I felt research is interesting and really would have loved to do more of it, but many workloads were taking up too much of my time and making my skills (whatever that I have to start with) rusty. I also find the legal materials in the library insufficient and thus, in a way acting as a valid excuse for not pursuing any solid research and writing 😉

He was also enquiring about the issue of  ‘originality’ in a phd. In his words “how can we find a phd topic that’s considered original?” Another  issue was in regard to methodology. He argued that “some people …. especially from science and technology field and even other social science field disregard legal research [and its methodology]”.

These are actually valid concerns! Let me start by saying, I understand how he felt! I have been there. I can definitely relate to him. Being where I was before,  I felt so lucky that I even got here. I can now see how these concerns has been plaguing the law school academics and continue to do so, and how future research training would be essential in improving research endevour by legal academics. Trainings would actually be able to address issues about what is an original Phd and what sorts of methodology can be use in legal research. This kind of training would prepare a scholar before they embark on their Phd and thus, assist in combating high attrition rates by our Malaysian scholar.

Originality in legal research can be tricky and [almost not thought of], if, by original you would have to:

  • Develop a totally new product of law
  • Develop a new jurisprudential theory

However,  a legal thesis could be considered substantially original, if, it:

  • improved on an existing product of law
  • reinterpreted an existing legal theory in a new context
  • conducted an in-depth study on something not previously known or investigate

In terms of methodology, socio-legal research is an ‘in thing’ nowadays. Injecting empirical element into your study, not only fulfill the requirement of originality, but also the part on contribution to knowledge. For e.g. some people may argue that almost every aspect of family law in Malaysia has been researched to death. Well, that’s not true.  Because a majority of those previous thesis have not considered the point of view of the people govern by the law for instance. Many of the past legal research were doctrinal. The time has now come for inter-disciplinary research, a socio-legal research that takes into account how the law actually work in reality, instead of merely on paper or statute.

So the next time, we consider a research topic, start with the problem that needed investigation. From there, it may lead us somewhere…perhaps even a PhD thesis.

I attached here a very good article on issues facing legal postgraduate in Australia. Some of them may be applicable to all of us. 🙂 All the best!

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