Law and sociology
One strong theme in sociological investigations of law is an emphasis on empirical research, relying on a range of methods to study legal systems and law in action, including legal occupations and professions. This chapter addresses methodological and practical issues that can arise when researching the judiciary, drawing on a leading socio-legal empirical study of judges and magistrates and their courts in Australia – the Judicial Research Project. This research relies on sociological concepts such as professionalisation, emotion work, job satisfaction, and work–family intersection. It uses multiple social research methods: interviews, mail surveys, and observations, as well as conventional legal research. This socio-legal research offers a complex and rich understanding of the everyday work of the judiciary and the courts, of which law and legal process are but one dimension. Social and legal understandings of the ways judges and magistrates experience and approach their work enable genuinely socio-legal insight into judges and judging, legitimacy of judicial process, meanings of impartiality and its performance, and implications of diversity and judging, particularly increasing numbers of women in the judiciary. The chapter focusses on one of the methodologies used to examine judicial officers’ in-court work and activities: court observations. The fieldwork entailed two researchers sitting in court together, recording information in parallel, observing magistrates across Australia conducting a general criminal list. It builds on earlier observational field research in the natural setting of the courtroom. The research design is distinctive as it includes more magistrates, more court sessions and records more interactions with all major participants – defendant, prosecution, and defence representative – than other more ethnographic approaches.