We aim to establish “legal priorities research” as a new research field. Legal priorities research consists of two core elements. First, determining which problems legal researchers should work on in order to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. We refer to this as “meta-level research.” Second, conducting research on the identified problems, which we call “object-level research.”
Our approach to legal priorities research is influenced by our concern for the long-term future. The associated view in moral philosophy has been referred to as longtermism, which holds that the primary determinant of the value of our actions today is how those actions affect the very long-term future. Longtermism is based on three assumptions. First, when assessing the moral value of our actions, all consequences matter equally, independent of when or where they occur. This suggests that we should not only consider the welfare of our current generation, but also that of future generations. Second, in expectation, the future is vast in size. If the human species does not go extinct prematurely, there could be millions of future generations. Third, interventions now could play a significant role in mitigating existential risks and ensuring a more positive long-term trajectory. While more research is needed to feasibly predict to what degree and how legal mechanisms might impact future generations, in a survey of legal academics, a majority agreed that there are predictable, feasible mechanisms to influence the long-term future, at least 1000+ years from now. Together these three assumptions suggest that an actor who wants to maximize welfare should focus on positively shaping the long-term future, 100 or even 1,000+ years from now.
Legal priorities research can be viewed as a subset of global priorities research. Global priorities research is a novel research field that aims to determine how individuals and institutions should spend their limited resources in order to improve the world by as much as possible. Relevant research organizations include the Global Priorities Institute at Oxford University, and the Forethought Foundation. While global priorities research has been focused on philosophy and economics, legal priorities research focuses primarily on legal studies, although it is still highly interdisciplinary.