Legal methodology in different countries – A focal topic in the current RabelsZ

June 13, 2019

In Germany, legal methodology is considered a foundational subject in the study of law. Yet the topic does not carry the same importance in all the globe’s jurisdictions. In the 2018 annual meeting of the Alumni Association of the Institute (Freunde des Hamburger Max-Planck-Instituts), the participants considered whether and in what form legal methodology exists in different countries of the world. The papers presented at this symposium have been published in the 2019/2 Issue of the RabelsZ.

In Germany, legal methodology (juristische Methodenlehre) constitutes a required subject in the study of law; the same holds true in Austria and Switzerland. In terms of content, the subject is dedicated to a scholarly consideration of the canon of methods that legal scholarship has at its disposal to identify, interpret, and develop the existing law. Proceeding methodically makes the application of law transparent. Nonetheless, legal methodology is not one of the pillars of legal education - or even a recognized subject - in all countries.

As explained by Institute Director Reinhard Zimmermann in his introductory article considering legal methodology in Germany (“Juristische Methodenlehre in Deutschland“), in many legal systems it is even difficult to identify a linguistic equivalent to the German concept of “Rechtswissenschaft” (literally: legal science). In England, for example, legal method is not a subject in its own right; English jurists instead place the primary sources of the law – legislation and case law – at the forefront of their academic focus. Similarly, the US lacks a formalized conception of legal method. By contrast, while France undeniably embraces the notion of “legal science”, it plays a relatively minor role in that country. Textbooks on legal methodology are hardly to be found. Yet as Reinhard Zimmermann explains, it is these differences in understanding that represent the special charm of a comparative inquiry into legal methodology.

The subject of legal methodology is considered in six articles found in Volume 83 of the Rabel Journal of Comparative and International Private Law:
Reinhard Zimmermann: Juristische Methodenlehre in Deutschland (The article is available on SSRN:
Gregor Christandl: Juristische Methodenlehre in Italien
Corjo Jansen: The Methodology of Dutch Private Law from the Nineteenth Century Onwards
Gerhard Dannemann: Juristische Methodenlehre in England Hans
Petter Graver: Teaching Legal Method in Norway
Gabriele Koziol: Juristische Methodenlehre in Japan

About RabelsZ
Since its establishment in 1927, the Rabel Journal of Comparative and International Private Law pursues theoretical as well as practical goals. Through the exploration of foreign law and research, it serves as a forum promoting international scholarly dialogue and academic exchange. At the same time, it serves as an aid to legislators by considering experiences beyond Germany’s borders, and it strives to address the questions arising with the increasing unification of laws through international treaties.

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