Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

Do Legal Origins Predict Legal Substance?

Anu Bradford
Yun-chien Chang
Adam Chilton
Nuno Garoupa


There is a large body of research in economics and law suggesting that the legal origins 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 origins 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 datasets 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 origins may be an important predictor of legal substance in well-established legal regimes, but do little to explain substantive variation in more recent areas of law.