The main requirement for the seminar is a
substantial and original paper. I would expect the typical paper to
be in the 5000-10,000 word range--but content is more
important than size. Some of the better papers from past years are
webbed here. Papers are due
on the last day of exam period, but a draft is due several weeks
There are at least four sorts of paper that I would consider appropriate.
1. A paper on a legal system very different from
ours that has not been covered in the course. It should include a
bibliography with adequate references on that system, an explanation
of how it worked, and some discussion of why it had the
characteristics it had—what function at least some of its legal
rules served. Ideally, such a paper would make it possible for me to
add that system to the course the next time I teach it. Two of the
legal systems we will be studying originally entered the course as such
2. A paper on one of the systems covered that goes into much more depth than we do in class. That means finding additional sources and mining them. It might also mean arguing that some of my description and/or analysis was wrong—with evidence to support the argument.
3. A paper that looks at one or more legal issues running through a variety of different legal systems, analogous to the thread chapters in my current book draft. Obviously the paper has to go well beyond what we cover in the class discussion.
4. A paper using ideas from the systems we have covered to suggest, explain, and defend substantial modifications to our legal system.
To help students who want to do the first sort of paper, which is for obvious reasons the one I most want to see, some possible places to look are:
The anthropological literature on primitive
societies. One good source is E. Adamson Hoebel, The Law of Primitive Man, Harvard
University Press, 1967.
The literature on legal history. Obvious possibilities are Anglo-Saxon law, Ottoman law ... .
The literature on non-state mechanisms for dispute
settlement. Lisa Bernstein at the University of Chicago has done a
good deal of work on modern arbitration, for instance.
The literature on western mining camps, which
established their own legal systems, and on the vigilantes.
If you want to go further afield, you could consider whether the observed behavior of any non-human species comes close enough to a legal system to be worth a paper. An interesting starting point, although not, I think, an adequate one, might be Chimpanzee Politics by Frans De Waal. Or you could look at Konrad Lorenz's books on animal behavior. Or you could try to analyze a fictional legal system, if you can find one that is sufficiently well described.