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On the Benefits and Costs of Legal Expertise: Adjudication in Ancient Athens
Citation Information: Review of Law & Economics. Volume 8, Issue 2, Pages 367–399, ISSN (Online) 1555-5879, DOI: 10.1515/1555-5879.1589, October 2012
- Published Online:
Legal expertise permits detailed laws to be written and enforced, but individuals with expertise may employ their special knowledge to skew decisions in privately beneficial directions. We illustrate this tradeoff in a simple model, which we use to guide our analysis of the legal system in ancient Athens. Rather than accepting the costs of expertise in return for the benefits, as do most modern societies, the Athenians designed a legal system that banned professional legal experts. And this was not because Athenian society was simple: The Athenians employed sophisticated contingent contracts and litigated frequently (to the point that the law courts featured prominently in several famous comedies). Furthermore, the Athenians recognized that forgoing expertise was costly, and where the cost was particularly high, designed institutions that made use of expertise already existing in society, employed knowledgeable individuals who were unable to engage in significant rent-seeking, or increased the private returns to collecting publicly beneficial information. Although the Athenian legal system differs in many ways from modern legal systems, it nonetheless functioned very effectively. Investigation of the Athenian system highlights how important it is for institutional designers to consider legal institutions as a bundle, whose pieces must complement one another.