On 28th and 29th October as well as on 1st November 2021, the project Strengthening of the Rule of Law Phase II, LAO/031 and the University of Luxembourg (Inter-University Cooperation Project Laos-Luxembourg) co-hosted an online research workshop. It brought together 95 participants, law teachers and legal practitioners from the Faculty of Law and Political Science (FLP), the Faculty of Law and Administration of Champasak University (FLA), and the National Institute for Justice (NIJ). The participants benefitted from the first official introduction of the new guidelines on academic legal research methodology, currently in the final stages of drafting. It is envisioned that this publication will be useful to academics and law students as it asserts a clear structure on how to do (socio-) legal research and write a paper, applying specific internationally accepted rules e.g., in terms of referencing that should be respected by all current and future Lao legal professionals.
The idea of creating such academic research guidelines was born in 2019 during a summer school in Vang Vieng. Previously, every institution followed its own research methods and no general approach was agreed on. Past guidelines had been based on more general social sciences methods and thus, the wish emanated that a specific legal guiding document be developed that would compel the FLP to respect common standards. A committee of lecturers was appointed to draft the Guidelines headed by Ass. Pr. Bounthieng and worked under the support of UNI.lu’s Liaison Officer. The guidelines are expected to be finalized for dissemination at the beginning of the 2nd semester of this academic year (2022), in both an English and a Lao version.
The guidelines on academic legal research methodology
The Chair of the general discussion throughout the three days was Vice-Dean Dr Somdeth Keovongsack. He affirmed that the guidelines developed so far could be improved at any moment in time and that valuable ideas shared by any participant could be included in the document’s revision, such as to make it the best possible guide for teachers and academia in the field of law in the Lao PDR.
Dr Lone Lindholt, Chief Technical Advisor of the project LAO/031 briefly emphasised that the importance of the manual lies in the reality that Lao national academic institutions need to provide analysis of how the rule of law works in the country, and that can best happen through a “knowledge-based approach of the rule of law in Laos”. Only then, by measuring up to international legal standards, practitioners and more generally citizens will start really trusting the law and its strength. Dr Perrine Simon, Liaison Officer of the University of Luxembourg highlighted that these guidelines aim at improving understanding on of what is legal research, together with legal reasoning, in order to strengthen the quality of legal research, which could greatly contribute to enhanced knowledge and application of Lao law.
The two first days of the workshop were dedicated to the presentation of the “Guidelines on Academic Legal Research Methodology” elaborated by the FLP team with the support of UNI.lu. Presentations on the different aspects of the Guidelines were followed by pro-active and fruitful discussions involving all the participants to raise questions and/or their viewpoints.
The presentations by Dr Perrine Simon, Liaison Officer for the University of Luxembourg, Ajarn Pangthong Xayyavong, Dr Boulaphiane Sisouk, Dr Latdavanh Donkeodavong and Dr Sypha Chantavong addressed such crucial aspects as “what is legal research?”, “the sources of legal research?” (listing primary and secondary research sources), “academic ethics and plagiarism” (including the different types of plagiarism that exist), “referencing styles for legal research” (explaining the use the “Chicago style” of referencing in the Lao PDR; the construction of footnotes) and ways of “structuring a law paper”.
The speakers agreed on the manual’s common interest to all academic actors in the legal field in the Lao PDR, and on how it should be understood and used.
Key points from the discussion included:
- establishing such guidelines and choosing a specific method of scientific legal research is a necessary step, as the use of different social sciences research methods not precisely fitting the needs of the legal field have caused much confusion in the past;
- the international approach in legal research has long been to adopt an objective and analytical methodology based on knowledge. In this way the present manual represents a suitable tool, a summary of consistent rules, which will permit Lao PDR’s legal research approach to enter the “international arena”. The new globally accepted and implemented standards will be applicable and applied by all legal practitioners, law teachers and students; and
- the FLP now enjoys the presence and performance of competent professionals in the field of legal research after years of more appropriate training. The “consistency” and “quality” of future legal research and work by Lao lawyers and teachers is a key factor that has been prioritized and that “constitute a goal and a success in itself already”.
Challenges to doing research
On the last day of the workshop, Dr Lone Lindholt discussed the final issue of “concretely getting started with research”, more specifically in the challenging Lao context. For this purpose, the participants were broken down into smaller working groups and were asked to list contextual, institutional and individual challenges faced when doing research as a legal professional in the Lao PDR and thereafter propose solutions that could remedy to the current situation. For LuxDev, this will be directly fed into the formulation process in 2022 for the development of the next phase of project LAO/031 under the scope of Lao - Luxembourg Indicative Cooperative Programme V - 2023-2027.
Key aspects were highlighted by the various speakers during the overall event and they should be kept in mind by practitioners and students at any time.
- the integrity and the persistence of the data should be ensured. Teachers and students should use only reliable data as they constitute the core of legal research;
- plagiarism is a grave academic violation and the infringement of an author’s copyrights should be avoided at all costs. A lot of emphasis was put on the importance of observing academic ethics like respecting the integrity of the initial author and considering the principles of “honesty, fairness, respect and responsibility for the written work” (Quote Dr Sisouk);
- one of the manual’s main objectives is to permit law teachers to more efficiently uncover and prevent plagiarism while proof-reading papers. This intense scrutiny is required and necessary in particular in the Lao PDR as no plagiarism-control-program yet exists that automatically spots similarities between two or more texts;
- an academic legal research paper should include specific parts, namely an introduction, a research question, an appropriate title as well as adequate titles for each paragraph, a main body describing and analyzing the subject and the author’s arguments, and a conclusion, without forgetting footnotes and a bibliography.
The participants energetically engaged in the conversation. Multiple valuable questions and claims permitted to straightforwardly review and improve the manual’s content.
- a large issue often pointed out during the three-day-event was that neither society in general nor the Lao Government sufficiently acknowledge the significance of reliable and structured academic legal research. This means that support through public policies is largely absent, and that data collection is not facilitated at all as many sources (e.g. court decisions) are still in many ways considered confidential;
- hand in hand with this goes the fact that young researchers have not yet been motivated enough by national decision-makers to start new research projects, as financial and/or academic rewards are not foreseen and public funding is scarce. The participants agreed that the future budget allocated to legal research activities should be more appropriate to the real needs and that the schedules of law teachers should be arranged in such a way to permit the conduct of research beside giving classes;
- another wish from the representatives of the three institutions tis the creation of an open forum for researchers to discuss their views, exchange their ideas and develop (together) new data. The FLP, FLA and NIJ, as the three main national legal research institutions in the Lao PDR, have very complementary competences in the field of socio-legal research and their collaboration should be further encouraged and dynamized;
- Dr Perrine Simon acknowledged the absence of a common platform to share and develop research. She mentioned the ongoing support to the development of an institutional repository for the FLP and also announced that the University of Luxembourg is planning to launch new research grants that would be open to teachers of the FLP. Similarly, LAO/031 provides research grants on a more limited scale to FLA and NIJ.
3rd Annual Research Forum, 15 December 2021
Lastly, at the end of the workshop, participants were encouraged to submit their contributions to 3rd Annual Research Forum on 15th of December. With a focus on research methodology each contribution could contribute towards increased interaction within the socio-legal research community in the country, where opinions and legal data are shared and professional growth is achieved.
The project Strengthening of the Rule of Law Phase II, LAO/031 is financed by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and implemented by LuxDev, the Luxembourg Development Cooperation Agency.
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