Law for a Flat World: Legal Infrastructure and the New Economy

Gillian Hadfield (University of Southern California)

Abstract: In this paper I argue that our legal infrastructure—the socially available set of legal materials that economic actors can use to help govern relationships—has not kept up with the transformation in the economic demand for law wrought by the changes associated with globalization and the new economy. Empirical evidence for this claim includes the increasing levels of dissatisfaction in even the most elite corporate legal markets, the unprecedented impact of the Great Recession of 2009 on large law firms, and surveys and interviews conducted with corporate counsel. The primary basis for the claim of a mismatch, however, is theoretical: the attributes of our existing legal infrastructure—a heavy reliance on densely-worded and complex statutes, regulations and contracts; human-capital-intensive craft production methods; undiversified legal business models; almost exclusive reliance on mandatory legal rules imposed by public actors—are poorly suited to the nature of economic activity in the new economy. The reason our legal infrastructure has not adapted, I argue, is attributable to an even deeper level of legal infrastructure: the severe limitations on who may produce legal rules and other legal inputs (such as advice, document templates, norms and practices) imposed by our continued reliance on publicly produced rules and the excessively closed nature of our lawyer- and judge-controlled legal markets.

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