The Future of Law and Development- Symposium by LawDevelopment Blog

Given my recent update on the current thinking on Law and Development, I was interested to hear that Tom Ginsburg and his team at Law And Development Blog were holding their first ever online Symposium on the Future of Law and Development.

The parameter of the symposium was framed by three questions:
1. Is Law and Development really a field, both in practice and especially in academia?
2. What are the lessons learned about the topic?
3. What should be our academic and applied future focus?

The responses of these prominent scholars (some of whom are also practitioners) confirms my own thoughts on this subject in practice and study- that it is still an evolving, broadening field that is compounded by the fact that there is so little agreement on what is meant by 'development', 'law' and 'impact'.

Here is my summary of the wide array of responses to the three questions.

1. Is Law and Development really a field, both in practice and especially in academia?
  • Yes, the practice of 'law and development', 'rule of law', 'legal reform', etc, although disparate activities, shows that there is an inherent value of the virtue of law. Taken as a value, rather than a project activity, it can promote a unity of purpose.
  • No, it is not a field it itself, it might be more a common focus of multiple activities/disciplines/fields. Even within 'law' itself, narrow subject based law implementation has a totally emphasis than, say, the way broader 'rule of law', whatever that means. However, 'legal development', a very narrow construction of law in development, might be a field.
  • Maybe, but I don't care to debate it because we can argue until the cows come home.Although such theoretical questions are common in academia, it is not productive.
2. What are the lessons learned about the topic?
  • It remains very hard to show that law causes development, compounded by the many definitions of 'law' and the many definitions of 'development'. Arguably it might be easier to study a concrete narrow application of law (such as telecoms law) on economic growth, than say a broader 'legal reform' project.
  • Moreover, the few studies that have been done to explore causal links have been flawed in definitions, assumptions, method, or data reliability.
  • Some efforts have done more harm than good
3. What should be our academic and applied future focus?
  • We need to do the impossible and define what 'development' is (including what the end goals are), that 'law' is trying to serve so that we can actually measure the impact of that law project. And even then, 'impact' might not be possible to measure or be debated because we all look at it from our individual different lens.
  • In particular, we should continue to refine out knowledge of law and economic growth, as well as law and social development, based on practice by aid agencies. But, as an academic field, how much should we take into account the current practice of aid agencies?
  • However, we should also study law more broadly in terms of scholarly and more theoretical issues like adoption, integration, governance. It will become more and more of a social science, then a legal or economic, field. Maybe it is not possible to theorize such a field. And even it it is, as a social science, it is even harder to measure and study.
  • Accept the differences in practice between the different aid agencies (based on their realities) rather than try to find universality, and examine the social, cultural, political and ergonomic contexts in each study of the topic.
  • However, while studying the contexts is useful, how can we strike a balance between 'context matters' (ie highly tailored one-off solutions) and the 'blueprint approach', both of which are not particularly useful in practice? This is very hard to answer, but maybe scholars can can first develop methodological tools, define 'development' and the goals of each context, admit complexities, and develop theories.
  • While studying the subject, we should include the usual quantitative methods, but give qualitative methods just as much, if not more, importance. In addition, we should study legal approaches in development using diverse and interdisciplinary methodologies. Moreover, we should study 'law' broadly to include the informal systems and unique context of each country.
  • Scholars and practitioners should do more evaluations of projects

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