Headshot of Professor Michael Bryant inset into a blue background with gavel andglobe,
“I think there is a movement afoot throughout the world, a greater willingness to engage with other cultures and nations and to look at how one’s own culture develops laws to deal with the problems faced in many societies,” says Professor of History and Legal Studies Michael Bryant, whose casebook in the burgeoning field of comparative law will be published this spring.
Michael Bryant, Ph.D., helps grow comparative law field in the U.S. with new book
Feb 24, 2021, by Denise Kelley

Professor Michael Bryant’s casebook in the burgeoning field of comparative law, scheduled for publication in the spring of 2021, is unique by design. Titled Global Legal Traditions: Comparative Law for the 21st Century, Bryant and his co-authors offer a broad survey of not just Western legal traditions but also of non-Western legal traditions that are rarely found in American casebooks.

Casebooks are the primary method for educating law students in the U.S. and common law countries. They tend not to include cases from non-Western jurisdictions, partly because the material isn’t covered by the bar exam. 

For students, comparative law can open them to the broad expanse of world civilization and culture.

But Bryant and his fellow co-authors think the tide regarding comparative and global approaches to law in the U.S. is turning. The book, says Bryant, is based on his and his co-authors’ belief in the continued rise of comparative law in the U.S. legal field within today's era of globalization and engagement with other countries, traditions, and cultures.

“I think there is a movement afoot throughout the world, a greater willingness to engage with other cultures and nations and to look at how one’s own culture develops laws to deal with the problems faced in many societies,” says Bryant, a Holocaust expert whose field of study also includes the German legal system. 

But staying at the forefront of one's field isn’t easy. The co-authors spent seven years working on the 750-page book; it took hundreds of hours of work to obtain copyright permissions for their sources. But their dedication to creating the leaders of tomorrow, and to the ideas of the project, ensured the book came to fruition.

Comparing legal traditions 

Designed for law students, scholars, and professors, the book compares four types of legal traditions in the world, both Western and non-Western. Sections and their co-authors include:

  • The civil legal tradition, represented by Germany, authored by Michael Bryant, Ph.D., Professor of History and Legal Studies
  • The common law tradition, represesnted by Great Britain, authored by Michael Bazyler, Professor of Law at Chapman University and Board Chairman of NGO International Institute for the Rule of Law (IIRL);
  • The Chinese legal tradition, comprising a melding of Confucian law, socialist law, and rules of the Communist Party of China, authored by Kristen Nelson, adjunct professor of legal studies at Gratz College;
  • Islamic law, a legal system not centered on a nation-state, authored by Sermid Al-Sarraf, Executive Director of IIRL.

In addition to similarities, the authors highlight unique features that aren’t comparable across the four traditions. For example, Bryant includes a series of chapters on Nazi law, which is incomparable to the other traditions yet important to the history of German law. There is also a detailed discussion centered on how Islamic law does not have a real constitution, in part because Islamic law is not centered on a nation state or issued solely by a government authority. 

Establishing similarities and differences

Important to the analysis of global legal traditions is the historical, cultural, and religious context that the authors provide for each one. Providing context not only “reflects how the law exists in the world,” says Bryant, but it also helps pinpoint the ways in which the legal principles in each system can be studied comparatively, the main goal of the book.

In comparing the legal systems, the authors establish and account for similarities and differences that exist between the traditions. The differences they discuss are significant, from parallel legal systems in Germany, whose superior court is an EU court, to the one-party system in China, for example. Where relevant, they draw out similarities. 

“Establishing important similarities is the main artistry of crafting a casebook in comparative law,” says Bryant. “In comparative law, similarities are taken note of because legal scholars and judges around the world may have worked out solutions to problems that could be very helpful to us. That’s something that’s worth studying, it seems to me.”

Expanded horizons

A dedicated teacher, Bryant believes the benefits of comparative law extend to the classroom and to professional life.

For students, comparative law can open them to the broad expanse of world civilization and culture. For professionals or lawyers representing businesses, they may find it helpful to know that a country’s legal system reflects cultural beliefs.

“Localism is important, but is has to be balanced against an appreciation for what’s going on elsewhere,” he says.

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