PhD position ERC project: using data science to analyse legal big data (1.0 FTE)


Faculty of Law


University of Groningen

Since its founding in 1614, the University of Groningen has enjoyed an international reputation as a dynamic and innovative centre of higher education offering high-quality teaching and research. We encourage the 35.000 students and researchers to develop their own individual talents. Among the best research universities in Europe, we join forces with prestigious partner universities and networks around the world, the University of Groningen is truly an international place of knowledge.

The Faculty of Law in Groningen
The Faculty of Law ( is building on a longstanding tradition of four centuries. Its mission is to be an ambitious top-ranking faculty of law with both high-quality education and research, with a strong international orientation, firmly rooted in the North of The Netherlands.

Modern, broad and international faculty
The faculty creates and shares knowledge through outstanding education and research, benefitting society. With more than 4,900 students, the faculty is heavily involved in educating students, both Dutch and international. The faculty is a modern, broad and international institution, educating students to become forward-looking, articulate and independent lawyers.

Job description

European Research Council project
This position is part of the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant project “The Impact of the International Right to Housing on National Legal Discourse: Using Data Science Techniques to Analyse Eviction Litigation (EVICT)”. The project is led by Prof. Michel Vols, and positioned within the Department of Legal Methods.

This ERC project aims to:

A. conceptualise the international right to housing by analysing this right as a loosely associated network of housing rights, as codified in or implied by international and European treaties, case law, and the decisions of international and European official bodies and committees
B. determine and explain the impact, or lack thereof, of the international right to housing on national legal and judicial discourses by collecting and analysing data on citations of international case law used in national case law, extracting and assessing data on arguments used by parties/courts in case law, and examining the power of particular normative arguments used in the data
C. identify and explain the predictors of judicial decision-making in national eviction litigation by applying Machine Learning techniques, and assess whether these predictors can be linked to the right to housing discourse
D. explore how data science methods used in EVICT can be used in other areas of the legal discipline
E. share the collected corpora of legal data on an open access data hub (

The position concerns PhD research regarding the integration of international housing rights into modern national (European) housing systems. The PhD researcher (with a four-year appointment) will experiment with using network analysis techniques and other data science methods to study legal (big) data, including international and national court judgments (case law).
Legal research and citation analysis

The PhD researcher will – in an interdisciplinary team of other researchers – develop tools to systematically collect and analyse international, European and national legal data. The PhD researcher will identify if and how 1) international courts and committees refer to legal texts, such as previous judgments or decisions of international courts and committees; and 2) national courts refer to the judgments of international and national courts and committees.
Together with other team members (including legal scholars), the PhD researcher will analyse and visualise the dialogue between national and international courts. By calculating network statistics, the researcher aims to discover the emergence and establishment of patterns; identify the content and importance of judgments, decisions, and reports; and measure and compare their persuasive power.
The researcher is expected to successfully undertake research on the project. The researcher is expected to write a dissertation either in the form of a monograph or in the form of peer reviewed articles. The researcher should attend, present at, and organise conferences and workshops; and undertake (limited) teaching activities related to the ERC project.

Department of Legal Methods & Computational linguistics research group
The PhD researcher will become a member of the Department of Legal Methods, a lively legal multidisciplinary department at the Faculty of Law.
Moreover, the PhD researcher will participate in the computational linguistics research group at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Groningen (located in the same building as the Faculty of Law).

PhD training programme
The PhD researcher will participate in the Faculty of Law’s training programme for PhD students organised by the Groningen Graduate School of Law (GGSL):
This training programme is tailor made to this project and includes courses offered by other Graduate Schools, like the Graduate School of Humanities (GSH).

The PhD research will be supervised by Michel Vols (Professor at the Department of Legal Methods), Martijn Wieling (Associate Professor at the Department of Information Science) and Michelle Bruijn (Assistant Professor at the Department of Legal Methods).

A project synopsis can be found online ( For the full version contact Prof. Michel Vols by email.


● a (research) master degree (or being in the final phase of such a master) in computational linguistics, artificial intelligence, computer science, language and communication technologies, or similar, with excellent marks
● interested in and experience with data science such as network analysis and/or Machine Learning
● interest in and experience with legal research and human rights will be considered an advantage, but is not essential
● highly proficient in spoken and written English (a writing sample will be requested)
● a working knowledge of Dutch, Spanish and/or other languages will be considered an advantage, but is not essential
● demonstrable competences: planning and organising, conceptual capacity, presenting, monitoring, flexibility, independent, analytical skills.

Conditions of employment

Contract length: 48 months.

We offer you in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities:

● a salary of € 2,395 gross per month in the first year, up to a maximum of € 3,061 gross per month in the fourth and final year for a full-time working week
● a holiday allowance of 8% gross annual income and an 8.3% year-end bonus
● 232 holiday hours per calendar year (with a 100% position)
● participation in a pension scheme for employees
● a full-time position (1.0 FTE/100%) for four years; first, you will get a temporary position of eighteen months with the option of renewal for another thirty months; prolongation of the contract is contingent on sufficient progress to indicate that successful completion of the PhD thesis within the contract period is to be expected. A PhD training programme is part of the agreement and you will be enrolled in the Graduate School of the Faculty of Law.

The research project also has its own funds for travel and accommodation.
The starting date of the position is 1 September 2021, or as soon as possible before or after that date.

Job Application

You may apply for this position until 1 March 11:59 pm / before 2 March 2021 (CET) by means of the application form (click on "Apply" below on the advertisement on the university website).

If you are interested and you meet our qualification criteria, please include within your application:

● motivation letter
● curriculum vitae
● list of grades from your Master’s degree, including the percentile in which you rank in your studies (if available)
● list of publications (if applicable)
● names and contact details of three referees, who will be contacted after the interview stage.

Promising candidates will be asked to provide a sample of writing, and will be invited for an interview which will take place in March 2021. It will also be possible to interview remotely.

We are an equal opportunity employer and value diversity at our University. We are committed to building a diverse faculty so you are encouraged to apply. Our selection procedure follows the guidelines of the Recruitment code (NVP), and European Commission's European Code of Conduct for recruitment of researchers,

Unsolicited marketing is not appreciated.

Additional information

For additional information, please contact:

Prof. Michel Vols

In your application, please always include the job opening ID 221056

Digital application form