Legal Research Master's Conference: Empathy on Trial

Contributions from the field of Law and Literature

The Legal Research Master’s Conference Committee is pleased to announce its annual conference, titled “Empathy on Trial,” which will take place on the 13th of April. This year’s edition will revolve around how the field of Law and Literature regards the role and relevance of empathy in legal education and practice.

A couple of years ago, when President Obama was in the process of selecting a new Supreme Court judge, he explicitly emphasized the criterion of empathy: “I view the quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.” This raised quite some controversy. While most agree that empathy is an important characteristic for anyone to have, its role in law is questionable. At the heart of this controversy is the classic debate on law’s autonomy. Natural law scholars, such as Lon Fuller, argue for the inherent morality in law and that without “good order” there ceases to be a legal system. Legal positivists, however, emphasize procedural legitimacy and how law does not depend on any other norms. Thus, on the one hand there are some who believe that emphasizing the use of empathy in law is essential in achieving justice. On the other hand, sceptics argue that the quality of empathy has no role in law’s content nor in its application.

The field of Law and Literature has addressed the concept of empathy extensively, with scholars both discussing sources of law as literature, and how law is portrayed in literature. Ultimately, the conference discusses and answers this question: What can Law & Literature teach us about the role and relevance of empathy in legal education and legal practice? 

This debate incorporates many interesting questions, such as: is there a causal link between empathy and justice? If there is, should it be necessary for legal education to incorporate training on empathy? And, a question that is of particular interest for this conference, if there is a role for empathy in law, can it be aided by the use of literary texts, as suggested by some Law and Literature scholars? We invite you to join us in debating these questions at the upcoming LRM Conference on the 13th of April 2018. Especially in light of the seemingly increasing divide in today’s world, this topic is highly relevant. We encourage everyone, including judges, lawyers, academics, and students alike to come and share their ideas. 

Have a look at the bios of our speakers

Conference program

13.00 - 14.30

Opening plenary session: Law & Literature and Empathy 

  • Chair: Drs. André Verburg (Supreme Court of the Netherlands and Utrecht University)
  • Prof. Dr. Jeanne Gaakeer (Erasmus University)
  • Prof. Dr. Marco Wan (Hong Kong University)
  • Ms. Claudia Bouteligier (Leiden University)
14.30 - 15.00

Coffee break 

15:00 - 16:00

Practical workshops - Empathy in practice (parallel)

European law​​

  • Ms. Pauline Phoa (Utrecht University)
  • Dr. Laura Henderson (Utrecht University)

International criminal law/human rights

  • Dr. Ted Laros (Open University)
  • Dr. Brianne McGonigle (Utrecht University)
16.00 - 16.15

Short break

16.15 - 17:45

Closing plenary session: Empathy in legal education

  • Chair: Mr. Drs. André Verburg (Supreme Court of the Netherlands and Utrecht University)
  • Prof. Dr. Elaine Mak (Utrecht University)
  • Dr. Emma Jones (Open University)
  • Commentator: Mr. Tim Bleeker (Utrecht University)
Start date and time
End date and time
Janskerkhof 2-3, Utrecht
Entrance fee
Free of charge

Registration is open until the 5th of April. Please register via this form