On the Benefits and Costs of Legal Expertise: Adjudication in Ancient Athens

45 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2012

See all articles by F. Andrew Hanssen

F. Andrew Hanssen

Clemson University - John E. Walker Department of Economics

Robert K. Fleck

Montana State University - Bozeman - Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics

Date Written: January 27, 2012

Abstract

Legal expertise permits detailed laws to be written and enforced, but individuals with expertise may employ their special knowledge to skew decisions in privately beneficial directions. We illustrate this tradeoff in a simple model, which we use to guide our analysis of the legal system in ancient Athens. Rather than accepting the costs of expertise in return for the benefits, as do most modern societies, the Athenians designed a legal system that banned professional legal experts. And this was not because Athenian society was simple: The Athenians employed sophisticated contingent contracts and litigated frequently (to the point that the law courts featured prominently in several famous comedies). Furthermore, the Athenians recognized that forgoing expertise was costly, and where the cost was particularly high, designed institutions that made use of expertise already existing in society, employed knowledgeable individuals who were unable to engage in significant rent seeking, or increased the private returns to collecting publicly beneficial information. Although the Athenian legal system differs in many ways from modern legal systems, it nonetheless functioned very effectively. Investigation of the Athenian system highlights how important it is for institutional designers to consider legal institutions as a bundle, whose pieces must complement one another.

Keywords: law and economics, ancient Greece, legal institutions, adjudication, expertise

Suggested Citation

Hanssen, F. and Fleck, Robert K., On the Benefits and Costs of Legal Expertise: Adjudication in Ancient Athens (January 27, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1996730 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1996730

F. Hanssen (Contact Author)

Clemson University - John E. Walker Department of Economics ( email )

Clemson, SC 29634
United States

Robert K. Fleck

Montana State University - Bozeman - Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 172920
Bozeman, MT 59717-2920
United States
406-994-5603 (Phone)
406-994-4838 (Fax)

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