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This article suggests ways to integrate the insights and findings of two rather distinct fields: docket-based, longitudinal studies of trial courts and studies of dispute processing. In particular, I argue that longitudinal research on courts would benefit enormously from the incorporation of concepts and data on dispute processing. For example, instead of taking court cases as the starting point for study, longitudinal research should explore the multistage and transformative nature of disputing. Historical data should also be collected on the nature of the relationships between opposing litigants, on the roles played by participants other than the litigants (lawyers, supporters, audiences, third parties), and on the nature of processes within courts and within alternative community institutions for handling disputes. Longitudinal research can also contribute to our understanding of dispute processing by showing how current processes have been shaped by past use, and how changes in institutions and legal doctrine have influenced the definition and processing of disputes. I also discuss the weaknesses shared by some of the research in both fields, such as a greater concern for process than for outcome, a tendency to ignore political aspects of litigation, and an overemphasis on individual disputing behavior. I conclude by suggesting that longitudinal research on trial courts should pay greater attention to change in ideas about law and to shifting conceptions of right and wrong, cause and responsibility, and problem definition.

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Law & Society Review

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© 1990 Law and Society Association. Reproduced with permission.

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© 1990 Law and Society Association. Reproduced with permission.