Center for the Study of Law and Society

Center for the Study of Law and Society's Campus Building

Established in 1961, the Center for the Study of Law and Society (CSLS)  provides a global home for the multidisciplinary study of law and society.  Our goal is to raise awareness and engagement with the empirical study of law and society and build community among multidisciplinary socio-legal scholars.  CSLS brings together U.C. Berkeley faculty and graduate students as well as visiting scholars from across the United States and abroad to examine empirically important issues in law and society and influence policy and public dialogue. 

The Center convenes scholarly presentations, conferences, and workshops designed to exchange ideas and explore new concepts and perspectives.  It also encourages and supports empirical research and theoretical analysis of the social consequences of law, including legal institutions and processes, the impact of law on individuals and groups, and social, political, and intellectual influences on law.  It supports scores of graduate students from across the Berkeley campus through small grants and fellowships to support their original research.  In recent years, the Center’s primary substantive focus has been on criminal justice, inequality, and democracy and civil society.  

Research Programs

  • Empirical Legal Studies: CSLS has long been an intellectual home for empirical studies focused on the intersection of law and society. Today, empirical legal studies at UC Berkeley are characterized by a rich interdisciplinary approach that grounds empirical analysis in socio-legal theory and embraces a broad range of methods, both quantitative and qualitative. As interest in empirical legal studies grew throughout the legal academy, CSLS and Berkeley Law began the Berkeley Empirical Legal Studies (BELS) Program in 2006. Its multiple aspects include: Grant Writing; Workshops and Conferences; Technical Assistance; and the BELS Graduate Fellows Program.
  • Litigation, Courts, and Criminal Justice: The study of litigation, courts, and criminal justice processes has been central to the work of CSLS since its beginning.  Affiliated scholars study comparative judicial behavior, the development of European Union law, penal policy and patterns of incarceration, the privatization of corrections, prison conditions litigation, historical and contemporary police, and criminal justice system processes.
  • Legal Profession:  Several CSLS-affiliated scholars are engaged in empirical work about the legal profession both in the United States and abroad.  These projects include investigating the factors related to law students choosing public interest careers and staying in public interest work over the long term, the role of public interest law firms in democracy and civil society, legal mobilization and lawyers in contemporary China, and the expansion of authoritarian legality through courts and the legal profession in China.
  • Gender, Social Policy, and the Law: CSLS has administered several externally funded projects on law, teenage pregnancy, sex education policy, and work and family policy. Affiliated faculty are examining the decline of families under globalization and its implications for law, as well continuing historical research on women and crime.  Affiliated faculty also are studying gendered dynamics around work and family policy, including judicial and organizational responses to these policies and bias against mothers and leave takers in the workplace.
  • Civil Rights and Racial Justice: Many CSLS projects involve inquiries into civil rights and racial justice.  Current work examines whether the negative effects of unemployment vary with race; the public health consequences of police violence; the experience of Black women, men, and youth with the criminal justice system, policing, and various forms of violence; the development of legal mechanisms to create conditions for eliminating health disparities; public opinion and survey research about racial variation in attitudes and voting; and considering race in theories of deliberative and participatory democracy.
  • Legal History: CSLS has a rich tradition of supporting historical studies, working with UC Berkeley's distinguished group of scholars who specialize in the history of law, courts, and legal processes. Areas of research include economic history and the history of federalism, civil liberties and the welfare state, the experience of African Americans with the legal system after Reconstruction, as well as Asian-American encounters with the American legal system.  Affiliates are conducting research on colonial and 19th century legal history; African Americans’ encounter  with the law from the Civil War to the modern civil rights movement; and the history of organized labor and labor law at the turn of the twentieth century.
  • Law, Organizations, Employment and Schools: Research on law and organizations has become a major focus of scholarship at CSLS.  Affiliated scholars conduct research on the role of organizational institutions in judicial construction of civil rights law, the legal consciousness of employees and employers, public interest law firms as advocacy organizations, and the social psychology of discrimination and legal consciousness in schools.  CSLS also hosts the Center for Law and the Workplace (CLAW), which provides a core institutional center for student and faculty professional and scholarly development around the law of work and promotes cross-disciplinary scholarship to address pressing, contemporary  employment-related policy concerns.  Faculty affiliated with CLAW and CSLS are empirically studying issues related to employment in academia, including whether biases exist in STEM faculty hiring and possible interventions to improve equity and inclusion in university hiring, as well as the gendered effects of the COVID19 pandemic on faculty experiences and productivity. 
  • Regulatory Studies: CSLS actively supports and encourages research and scholarly interaction concerning the politics and implementation of regulatory and administrative regimes. Recent areas of study include globalization and regulation, ocean law, and policy and corporate compliance and organization theory.  Externally funded research projects have included major studies of comparative regulatory methods, comparative environmental regulation, corporate environmental performance, and the response to strong legal penalties in U.S. environmental law.
  • Jurisprudential Studies: The intellectual life of CSLS is enriched by a commitment to interaction among legal philosophers and empirically-oriented socio-legal scholars.  In this respect, the Center is advancing the intellectual agenda of the late Professor Emeritus Philip Selznick, its "founding father," who promoted a normatively and philosophically-inspired vision of socio-legal studies. This combined emphasis remains one of the striking features of Berkeley's CSLS.

CSLS Speaker Series

The Center for the Study of Law and Society hosts the CSLS Speaker Series, a weekly series of lunchtime presentations.  Each year an average of 25 lectures and talks are presented by scholars engaged in socio-legal research from UC Berkeley, other U.S. universities and abroad.

Berkeley Empirical Legal Studies (BELS) Graduate Fellowship

BELS fellows are doctoral students drawn from a wide range of disciplines across the UC Berkeley campus, including (but not limited to) those in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Biological Sciences, International Studies and Area Studies, Schools of Public Health, Business, and Public Policy, Colleges of Natural Sciences and Engineering, as well as from the School of Law (PhD, JD and JSD).  Fellows receive up to $1,000 dollars for research related expenses, attend monthly workshops with other BELS fellows to present and discuss their research, participate in CSLS activities, such as the Empirical Research Methods Workshops, the CSLS Speaker Series, and other conferences and events. 

Conferences and Workshops

CSLS sponsors special academic meetings, workshops, and conferences, often in collaboration with other campus units, and often resulting in books and other publications.  In recent years, conference topics have included: environmental protection and deterrence; law and society in China; the work of Martin Shapiro; the work of Harry N. Scheiber; Virtues and Vices of Legalism, honoring the work of Robert A. Kagan; and Building Theory Through Empirical Legal Studies.  CSLS organizes a series of Workshops on Empirical Research Methods, a series of interviews with founders and leading scholars in the field entitled Conversations in Law and Society, and a year-long seminar for graduate student fellows, the Berkeley Empirical Legal Studies (BELS) Graduate Fellowship.  CSLS also sponsors conferences and workshops for the dissemination and discussion of research, the exploration of new ideas for research, and the promotion of new multidisciplinary and cross-national collaborations.

Empirical Research Methods Workshops

Students interested in conducting empirical research on law are trained on a wide range of empirical methods, both quantitative and qualitative.  Leading experts, including some of our own faculty, facilitate occasional workshops on particular methodologies.  Past workshops are archived on our web page.

Conversations in Law and Society

Taped in front of a live audience at Berkeley Law School, this online video archive displays engaging conversations with the founders and leading figures of the field of law and society.

Publications and Blogs

CSLS along with the doctoral program, Jurisprudence and Social Policy, publishes two electronic Working Paper Series in the University of California eScholarship Repository.

CSLS Library

The Center maintains a small non-circulating library of interdisciplinary socio-legal journals (and some disciplinary journals), books, and house bound copies of most of the doctoral dissertations of graduates of the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program.


Catherine Albiston
(510) 642-0493
Staff contact
Pamela Erickson
(510) 642-4038
Mailing address

2240 Piedmont Ave (JSP Bldg), Berkeley, CA 94720 - 2150
(510) 642-4038