Complexity, the Generation of Legal Knowledge, and the Future of Litigation


The central problem of rationality is to tame and domesticate the overwhelming complexity the human mind faces in its efforts to survive and thrive in a complex, unpredictable, and hostile universe. Much of the history of the human race is essentially the story of its expanding capacity to do just that, and the survival benefits that this process has bestowed on the species. Legal systems in general are part of the story of taming complexity, and the modern American legal system is a particularly important part. In an effort to understand the nature of legal systems, much legal scholarship, like the scientific endeavors in many other disciplines, engages in reductivist efforts that simplify and then tries to explain or engage in normative efforts about a certain set of phenomena, typically through a priori reasoning. An outstanding and enormously influential example is economic analysis of law. Two recent publications of this kind particularly pertinent to The Future of Litigation are the extraordinary efforts of Louis Kaplow to explain, justify, and reform the law of burden of proof and essentially the entire judicial process. In contrast to such reductivist efforts is the methodology of Stephen Yeazell, which might be called the reformed judicial process school. The reformed judicial process school embraces rather than suppresses the complexity of the matter under investigation, in this case the judicial system, and employs whatever tools of analysis seem most appropriate to the task at hand, including careful doctrinal exegesis, the application of microeconomics, or empirical research. The result (whatever Yeazell or others might have intended) is careful, bottom-up empiricism rather than top-down prescription. Each approach has its utility and limitations. In the effort to advance knowledge of the operation of the legal system, work like Yeazell’s succeeds better than reductivist approaches. Yeazell’s work succeeds because he recognizes the implications of the legal system’s complexity and its dynamic nature, while the legal economists fail in that regard. In predicting The Future of Litigation, the work product of the reformed judicial process school is more likely to be influential than that of standard microeconomic theorizing. This is particularly evident in the pleading area that has been thrown into turmoil by the recent Supreme Court decisions in Iqbal and Twombly.

About the Author

Ronald J. Allen is the John Henry Wigmore Professor of Law at Northwestern University; Fellow at China Political Science and Law University; and President of the Board of Foreign Advisors at the Evidence Law and Forensic Sciences Institute at China Political Science and Law University.

By uclalaw