Do Legal Origins Predict Legal Substance?

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There is a large body of research in economics and law suggesting that the legal origin of a country—that is, whether its legal regime is based on English common law or French, German, or Nordic civil law—profoundly impacts a range of outcomes. However, the exact relationship between legal origin and legal substance has been disputed in the literature and not fully explored with nuanced legal coding. We revisit this debate while leveraging novel cross-country data sets that provide detailed coding of two areas of laws: property and antitrust. We find that having shared legal origins strongly predicts whether countries have similar property regimes but does little to predict whether countries have similar antitrust regimes. Our results suggest that legal origin may be an important predictor of legal substance in well-established legal regimes but does little to explain substantive variation in more recent areas of law.

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