Legal Development and the Problem of Systemic Transition

30 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2003

See all articles by Frederick Schauer

Frederick Schauer

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: April 2003


There is a large literature on legal transitions, mostly focusing on the allocation of the cost of legal change in areas such as taxation and the taking of property by eminent domain. Another literature looks at precedent and rules, exploring the legal system's own internal constraints on legal change. Yet there has been less attention on systemic legal change, in which entire legal systems change. When we look at systemic change, however, whether in post-colonial Africa and the Caribbean in the 1960s and 1970s, in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, in South Africa in the mid-1990s, or in countries such as Vietnam now, it turns out that legal systemic change has often been slower and less consequential than the political and economic changes in the same societies. In searching for the causes of the comparative resistance of law to change, we find that a range of impediments including the staffing of legal systems, the disproportionate preference for stability among external forces, and the nature of legal thought produce a degree of path dependence and resistance to change that are different for legal transition than for political and economic transition.

Keywords: International Development, Law and Legal Institutions

Suggested Citation

Schauer, Frederick, Legal Development and the Problem of Systemic Transition (April 2003). KSG Working Papers Series No. RWP03-025. Available at SSRN: or

Frederick Schauer (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-6777 (Phone)

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