Legal Systems Very Different from Ours
Fall 2013

The idea of this seminar is to look at a variety of different legal systems in order  to make sense of how they work and understand the different ways in which different systems have handled problems common to all. Unlike the usual course in comparative law, we are not going to be looking at systems close to ours such as modern Civil Law or Japanese law. Instead we will be examining systems from the distant past (Athens, Imperial China), from radically different societies (saga period Iceland, medieval Islam), or contemporary systems independent of government law (gypsy law, Amish).

If you have suggestions for additional legal systems we ought to be covering, tell me and they may get included.

The main requirements for the course are class participation and a paper whose final version is due at the end of the semester. A draft is due several weeks before the end of the course; the final weeks will be devoted mostly to discussions of the paper drafts.

Reading material for the course consists of draft chapters from the book I am currently writing, based on this course, plus readings from a number of other sources. A number of the books we will be using are currently out of print. You can either try to find a second hand copy at a reasonable price online or use the copies I will have on reserve in the library. My chapters are  webbed and linked to the syllabus. Some of the books required or recommended may be available as Kindles at a lower price than the hardcopy.

The book chapters are of two sorts—system chapters, each of which describes a legal system, and thread chapters, each of which discusses some issue that runs through a number of different—in some cases all—legal systems. On the syllabus, thread chapters are bolded.


Paper Requirement

Reading List

Table of Contents for the book draft based on this course

Links to relevant material online (students are invited to contribute more)

List of paper topics from past years

Some papers from past years

Some ideas for finding paper topics.

Lecture notes from a previous year

Recordings and White Boards from a previous year's classes (will be replaced by current recordings as the course proceeds)

Recordings from this year's class.

Office Hours Thursday 9/19 instead of Tuesday 9/17 this week (there's a lunch time meeting Tuesday I need to go to)

My office is Bergin 204; office hours Tuesday 12:00-1:00 and by arrangement
Virtual office hours, via email, 24/7. I can be reached at:

My Home Page