Legal cultures: overview

In this blog post, I will highlight a few legal traditions. The division into categories might help a lawyer assessing the potential effects of a certain choice of law. Obviously, when categorising the world’s legal systems, generalisation is inevitable. Still, if you avoid any such approach, you’d probably hire a foreign attorney each time a contracting counterparty refuses to work under your law. In this post, and a few to come, I will focus on contract interpretation aspects.

Three main legal traditions. Three approaches to legal practice can be distinguished, each representing the characteristics of the legal culture behind it:

  • The Roman legal culture;
  • The Germanic legal tradition; and
  • most visibly impacting the size of a contract, the common law.

Other legal families. Also other cultures can be identified, such as the Scandinavian ‘family’, the (former) socialist countries, Arab (or Islamic) legal culture, the Hindu tradition and various mixtures: the Scottish and South African legal systems are somewhat of a mixture between common law and civil law; Japanese law has been influenced by both U.S. common law and German law; Turkish law by the Swiss codification of around 1900; Russian law by several European legal systems including the Dutch civil code of 1992[1]. In Africa the influence of the former coloniser is often well recognisable (in many cases either the French or the English legal system has been adopted, but developed independently). Elsewhere, the British Commonwealth jurisdictions have adopted the English common law.

[1]      Many other classifications have been made (and their classification questioned). See Konrad Zweigert & Hein Kötz, Einführung in die Rechtsvergleichung, JCB Mohr Tübingen 1996, 3rd ed. and Reinhard Zimmermann & Mathias Reimann, The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law, Oxford U.P., 2006/2008, 1456 p.

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