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Self-Organizing Legal Systems: Precedent and Variation in Bankruptcy

Bernard Trujillo

Valparaiso University Law School

Utah Law Review, Vol. 483, 2004

Models of legal ordering are frequently hierarchical. These models do not explain two prominent realities: (1) variation in the content of a legal system, and (2) patterns of non-hierarchical ordering that we observe. As a supplement to hierarchical explanations of legal order, this Article draws on physical and social science research on complex systems to offer a self-organizing model. The self-organizing model focuses on variation in the content of legal systems and attempts to explain the relationship between that variation and patterns of ordering. The self-organizing model demonstrates that variation and ordering are not opposite categories, but rather constitute one continuous phenomenon.

Working with bankruptcy data and institutions, this Article describes self-organizing structures as overlapping networks of legal and extra-legal actors, and self-organizing dynamics as involving the twin processes of form innovation and norm emergence. This Article adduces empirical evidence (including a substantial case study and statistical analysis of a quantitative database) suggesting that bankruptcy is a self-organizing system. Finally, this Article suggests that self-organization may state a general theory of trial court behavior, and that the self-organizing model may illuminate legal research in areas such as discretion, doctrine, and legal change.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 80

Keywords: bankruptcy, complex systems, self-organization, empirical, norms

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Date posted: August 17, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Trujillo, Bernard, Self-Organizing Legal Systems: Precedent and Variation in Bankruptcy. Utah Law Review, Vol. 483, 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=924673

Contact Information

Bernard Trujillo (Contact Author)
Valparaiso University Law School ( email )
656 S. Greenwich St.
Valparaiso, IN 46383-6493
United States
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