Prof. Badawi Receives NSF/NEH Consortium Grant to Analyze Legal Systems

Adam Badawi, associate professor of law, has been awarded a $125,000 grant from the Digging Into Data Initiative. Badawi, along with Professor Rens Bod of the University of Amsterdam, submitted a winning project proposal that represents a radically new approach to the problem of measuring and visualizing differences among legal systems. The total funding for the project, which includes the grants to Badawi and Bod, is approximately $250,000. 

The Digging Into Data Initiative is an international competition to develop new insights, tools, and skills in innovative humanities and social science research using large-scale data analysis. Badawi’s project will receive logistical and technical support from the law school’s Center for Empirical Research in Law. 

“Our project focuses on machine coding of internal references in codes and laws,” Badawi says. “The logic behind our approach is that fundamental differences among legal systems manifest themselves in the structure of the texts. Those differences can be detected, parameterized, and visualized using computerized algorithms.” 

For example, the French Civil Code is based on a deductive legal philosophy, while the German code has been influenced by the idea that law finds its legitimacy in historical practice. Consistent with these characterizations, preliminary results show that the German code has a much richer network of internal cross references than the French Civil Code. Parameterizing these aspects of codes will allow the project to estimate the magnitude of differences across legal systems in a rigorous way. 

“Our project will provide a powerful new research tool not just for legal scholars but for any social scientist who wants to compare legal systems,” Badawi says. 

Vice Dean Andrew Martin, the Charles Nagel Chair of Constitutional Law & Political Science and director of CERL, says that the grant award is significant. “The Digging Into Data Initiative’s support of Professor Badawi’s research shows the great potential his project has for how we understand law.  This new methodology and its findings will also greatly benefit future scholars,” he says. 

The Digging Into Data initiative is sponsored by various foundations and organizations, including the National Endowment for the Humanities; the National Science Foundation; the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; and Jisc, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of digital technologies in education and research in the United Kingdom.  

Badawi and Bod compose one of 14 winning teams from Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The grants’ purpose is to support research on how computational techniques can be applied to “big data.” Each team represents collaborations among scholars, scientists, and information professionals from leading universities and libraries in Europe and North America.