Interdisciplinary Legal Research – Spring 2018

Interdisciplinary Research Workshop for Law School Students
Spring 2018


This workshop offers a systematic approach to finding information in today’s inter-disciplinary digital environment, focusing on the complex relationship between research and technology.  It is an introduction to the multiple facets of legal research, which often requires familiarity with research beyond finding statutes, cases, and administrative rules and regulations.  We will touch upon factual investigation, literature research, and of course, ways to manage all this information, whether you work alone on a project or as a team member.

Both the teaching and the practice of legal research are undergoing massive changes because of the explosion of technological developments. As a result, legal research is a completely different endeavor than it was just a couple of years ago, and it quite often depends on inter-disciplinary research. “What are the stats?” “What is the quantitative method you used to reach this results?” are just mere examples of the complexities of today’s research.


Among the objectives for this workshop, which will be developed through class lectures and discussions, research exercises, and source evaluations, are:

  • to learn the bibliographic and research characteristics of the specialized legal research tools and sources
  • to develop effective research techniques and strategies
  • to identify and compare available media options when performing interdisciplinary research
  • to make appropriate media choices for different research situations
  • to understand research within the context of the wider world of research


Each workshop session is designed to teach the student a specific research task and familiarize them with specific research strategies. At the end of each session the student should feel confident in using the approach taught. In order to achieve this goal, the tasks of each workshop will be detailed on this blog, so the students can attempt to research the hypothetical in advance of the workshop. To achieve “flipping the classroom”, the Prezi presentation will present the research plan, while the attached PowerPoint will walk you through the databases involved. During the workshop, the students will be introduced to the day’s hypo, given 5 minutes to analyze it on their own, then, a brief presentation of the resources will follow and an in-depth discussion of the best way of finding the answer to the question presented. The focus of each class is to achieve correct results using the most efficient research method, given the access students have to Columbia University databases.

We will meet in JGH – Room 646, which is located on the 6th floor in Jerome Green Hall -the Law School building – Thursdays from 12:10 – 1:10 PM.

  1. Students need to bring their own laptop to perform the research.
  2. This workshop will last 7 weeks (7one-hour sessions).
  3. It starts on January 18 and it will end on March 1.

For a mirror site of this page, go here

Week 1 – Why Interdisciplinary Research in Law: Data Mining and Information Management

JGH – Room 646, Thursday, January 18, from 12:10 – 1:10 PM.


Instructor: Amanda Bielistack, Erick Glass,  & Dana


What is interdisciplinary legal research?

Why do law students need to know anything other than legal research?

How do you manage your research data?

  1. Strategy?
  2. Research tools?
  3. Storage tools? (Google drive? WordPress cloud?)

Hypothetical 1:

In Roper v. Simmons, the US Supreme Court took into consideration a variety of scientific data, as the Brief for the American Psychological Association points out and the literature has discussed.

Using Roper v. Simmons, as our starting point let’s think about the following questions:

  1. Can you gather the relevant data?
  2. How can one find out how many such mentally ill people ended up in litigation (at the federal or state level)?
  3. How can you manage it?

Hypothetical 2:

In Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), the U.S. Supreme Court extended the due process protections of the exclusionary rule to include all “constitutionally unreasonable searches” that were done without a basis of probable cause. In the seven years after Mapp, homicide rates in the U.S. nearly doubled, riots broke out in at least forty-seven U.S. cities. During the same era, a heroin epidemic gripped the nation’s urban centers, giving rise to street drug markets and associated violence and pressures on law enforcement to curb those markets. As violence increased, a turn in the nation’s political culture questioned Mapp’s restraints on police discretion to stop and search criminal suspects. The result was Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

Can we find the data supporting the jurisprudential change from Mapp to Terry?

Class Presentation

Week 2 – Interdisciplinary Research in Law: Developing Research Strategies: Searching for supporting theories

JGH – Room 646, Thursday, January 25, from 12:10 – 1:10 PM.


Instructors: Ian Beilin & Dana Neacsu


Is sometimes language too unclear?

Find the theory to support your argument.  

  • Strategy
  • Resources

Hypothetical 1.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Jan. 13 it will look at whether a naturalized citizen can lose her citizenship over a white lie (Maslenjak v. United States, U.S., No. 16-309, review granted 1/13/17).
Divna Maslenjak fled to the U.S. from Bosnia, claiming that she faced persecution there because her husband had evaded conscription into the Serbian army during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. She was later naturalized.
But her husband had, in fact, served in the Serbian militia, and Maslenjak admitted to lying about it during her naturalization process.
As a result, Maslenjak was convicted of knowingly procuring her naturalization contrary to law and her citizenship was revoked.
But the jury had been told that her lie didn’t need to be material to her application for naturalization, and it’s not clear that it was—Maslenjak had also based her application on a fear of ethnic persecution.

The question presented by her petition is whether a naturalized citizen could be stripped of citizenship for an immaterial false statement, referred to as a “white lie”. Is ‘white lie” the appropriate synonym for an immaterial false statement?

Hypothetical 2.
Ritovarin is the most useful anti-retroviral medication to fight HIV/AIDS in many patients. However, the drug is very expensive in the United States, while much cheaper in Canada, although the drug was developed with government funding. As a result of that funding, a patent was issued to Ambitext, Inc., a young start up located in Denver. Insurance companies, consumer groups, etc. are furious at this outlandish price.
Is there any way to have the price lowered?

Ppt. Presentation

In-Class Prezi Presentation

Week 3 – Interdisciplinary Legal Research:  Data Mining as Preliminary Research- Data vs. Theory (I)

JGH – Room 646, Thursday, February 1, from 12:10 – 1:10 PM.

Instructors: Dana Neacsu

Research Question 1:

If, indeed, fake news had a crucial impact on our presidential elections, could we challenge the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections? On what ground?

Research Question 2:

If you needed to find the homicide data during 1985-2016 for US cities, how would you obtain it?

  1. NYPD Crash Data Bank-Aid
  2. FOIA & FOIL requests
  3. BetaNYC data portal
  4. FDNY Statistics
  5. I Quant NY
  6. Sunlight Foundation

Closed collections:

  1. ICPSR
  2. ProQuest Statistical Insight
  3. Historical Statistics of the United States
  4. DSSC data catalogs

Class presentation

Research Question 3.

If you needed to argue that lack of representation in immigration deportation cases was directly correlated with removal, how would you go about finding the data?


Week  4 – Interdisciplinary Legal Research :  Data vs. Theory (II)

JGH – Room 646, Thursday, February 8, from 12:10 – 1:10 PM.

Instructors: Alice Izumo

Question 1

You just had your first meeting with a client from El Salvador who is applying for asylum in the U.S.  Your client is applying affirmatively through an asylum officer at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.  You have already researched the relevant statutes, regulations, and cases to assess the strength of his legal claim.  In addition, you would like to gather some data and statistics.

Source for Question 1:

Department of Homeland Security, “Immigration Data & Statistics,”

  1. a. How many affirmative applications were filed by people from El Salvador in 2016?  What percent of all affirmative applications do they account for?
  2. .b. Have those numbers increased in the past few years?
  3. .c. Among the affirmative application cases completed in 2016, what was the outcome for those filed by people from El Salvador (granted, denied, etc.)?
  4. .d. Does this information help you advise your client? If so, how?

Question 2

It is now a couple years later.  Unfortunately, the asylum officer did not grant your client asylum; instead, she referred your client’s case to an immigration judge (IJ).  Your client is now applying for asylum defensively in removal (deportation) proceedings in Immigration Court, which is part of the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Sources for Question 2:

2.a. How many defensive applications did the Immigration Courts receive from people from El Salvador in 2016?  What percent of all defensive applications do they account for?

2.b. Among the defensive application cases completed in 2016, what was the outcome for those filed by people from El Salvador (granted, denied, etc.)?

2.c. Can you find information about individual immigration judges, such as the rate at which they grant asylum?

2.d. Does this information help you advise your client? If so, how?

Ppt presentation

Week 5 – Interdisciplinary Legal Research :  Data vs. Theory (III)

JGH – Room 646, Thursday, February 15, from 12:10 – 1:10 PM.

Instructors:   Dana

  • Merger and acquisitions; taxes; ESG
  • Best strategies and best database choice
  • Free and fee-based databases

Research problem 1: Let’s study  Allergan – Pfizer merger and tax inversion. What is a tax inversion?

  • Merger steps
  • Search SEC filings for a drug merger
  • Look at Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) data for these companies.



  1. MSCI GMI analyst (for ESG data)
  2. Thomson ONE
  3. Factiva
  4. EDGAR (

Research problem 2: A federal study on a mysterious noise that vexes Windsor, Ont., residents has gathered evidence the disturbance is real and is pointing fingers across the Canada-U.S. border at the blast furnaces of an American steel mill.

The locals call the nuisance the “Windsor Hum,” a periodic pulsating, vibrating noise that has bedevilled residents for some time. They would like to sue but then do not know who the defendant would be and whether it is a viable corporation.

  • Identify potential parties (who is the defendant)
  • Is the defendant solvent?
  • What databases can you use (free-of-charge; fee-based. When?)


  1. Factiva;
  2. ThomsonONE

Class Presentation


Week 6 – Interdisciplinary Legal Research :  Data vs. Theory (IV)

JGH – Room 646, Thursday, February 22, from 12:10 – 1:10 PM.

Instructors: TBA  & Dana Neacsu

Topic 1:

  • Strategies for choosing the relevant information (domestic databases)

Research problem 1  – You are the leader of citizens’ rights group, and you are concerned about pollution of local waterways.  You want to gather information about the water quality and known polluters (i.e., those entities that have obtained pollution permits) and cross-reference this data with health outcomes.)

  • EPA EnviroFacts (combined database that provides profiles of locales):
  • EPA WATERS (comprehensive database & toolkit that combines various data sources):
  • EPA EDG GeoViewer (part of WATERS, allows you to select geographic areas and download data):
  • CDC Main data portal:
  • CDC WONDER (topic specific database, especially good for tracking specific diseases):
  • American FactFinder (general demographic/socioeconomic data from the Census Bureau; contains data from many surveys, not just the decennial Census):

Topic 2:

  • Strategies for choosing the relevant information (international databases)

Research problem 2  –

You provide in-house counsel services to a company which produces agricultural products. You would like to identify markets that would be good targets for growing your exports.

You are also interested in identifying markets with which we have preferential or regional trading agreements as well as any regulations in place governing trade with particular markets.

Class Presentation

Week 7 – Interdisciplinary Legal Research :  Data vs. Theory (V)

JGH – Room 646, Thursday, March 1, from 12:10 – 1:10 PM.

Instructors: Hunter Whaley

Research Question:

Right To Repair.
You just bought the latest and greatest mobile phone. New phone heavier, and many dollars lighter, as you leave the store you trip and drop the phone, breaking the screen.
You have two options. Immediately turn around and spend a large sum of money to get the phone fixed by the manufacturer. Or, take your phone to a third party to have the screen replaced for a lot less money.
While it may seem counter intuitive to think we own the device and therefore we should be able to fix the device anywhere we choose, this has not always been the case.
This interdisciplinary workshop will look into the history (legislative and otherwise) of your right to repair, mod, and break the products you own. Additionally the workshop will explore sources for gathering data on to be used in support of drafting right to repair legislation.
– state legislative history
– statistical databases