Do Legal Origins Predict Legal Substance?


There is a large literature in economics and law suggesting that countries’ legal origins — whether a country’s legal regime was based on British common law or German, French, or Nordic civil law — profoundly impact a range of outcomes. However, the exact relationship between legal origins and legal substance has been disputed in the literature, and this relationship has not been fully explored with nuanced legal coding. We revisit this debate while leveraging extensive 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 law 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 newer areas of law.