The 1960s Law and Development Movement

What is the Law and Development Movement?

In the 1960s, about a decade after the aid industry started, USAID and Ford Foundation (with other smaller donors), started an ambitious project on legal and judicial reform in developing countries. Some key assumptions and features of this movement included:

  • Law is CENTRAL to development (ie: it is not a tool nor context-dependent)- law is an engine of change and can lead to development.
  • Law reform (changes in substantive laws, in large part based on US laws) need to take place
  • The major actor is the legal profession (judges and lawyers) who will spearhead and push for reform, so legal education was key
  • A technical, top-down transfer of the American legal system and its culture
  • Led by US lawyers and law professors (not multi-disciplinary)

Did it fail?

A little more than a decade later, key academic participants (Trubek and Galanter 1974; Merryman 1977) and a former Ford Foundation official (Gardner 1980) declared the program a failure, and support quickly evaporated. Reasons cited for failure:

  • The assumption that law is central to development (ie law reform will impact development) might be incorrect
  • It was a packaged, top down approach (from US to developing countries) with no participation from the recipients- the simplistic transfer of the US legal system does not work
  • There was little consideration of local realities, such as culture and informal legal systems
However, not everyone agrees that the movement failed, mainly for the following reason:
  • Impact of reforms usually take decades before they can be seen, it was too soon to concede failure only after one decade. Some recent works (30 years later) report that some impact can be currently witnessed.  

Read more: 
  • Trubek, David M., and Marc Galanter. 1974. "Scholars in Self-Estrangement: Some Reflections on the Crisis in Law and Development." Wisconsin Law Review 1974: 1062–1101
  • Burg, Elliot M. 1977. "Law and Development: A Review of the Literature and a Critique of 'Scholars in Self-Estrangement.'" American Journal of Comparative Law 25:492–530.
  • Gardner, James. 1980. Legal Imperialism: American Lawyers and Foreign Aid in Latin America. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • McClymont, Mary and Stephen Golub, eds. 2000. Many Roads to Justice: The Law-Related Work of Ford Foundation Grantees Around the World. New York: The Ford Foundation.
  • Tamanaha, Brian Z. 1995. "The Lessons of Law-and-Development Studies" American Journal of International Law 89:470-486.

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