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During the twentieth century, the center of production of legal ideas shifted from France to Germany and then to the United States. Here, the dominant legal reasoning framed the law as a phenomenon of social organization that was not confined to a specific legal system. There were both external and internal factors influencing U.S. legal thought which explain this change of wind from continental Europe to the United States. Externally, after World War II the United States garnered influence by positioning itself for political and economic global leadership. Internally, the critique of social purpose functionalism articulated by the legal realists provided new problem-solving approaches integrated in a reconstructive and pragmatic understanding of law called positive-sociology functionalism. Finally, legal diffusion occurred through public law disciplines based on U.S. constitutional law theories of rights, neo-formalism, and balancing conflicting policy analysis.

The diffusion of legal education takes place through law schools, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international financial institutions (IFIs) and other avenues, and with different political agendas, often in conjunction, for instance, with law and development reforms or more broadly due to the prestige of U.S. legal training and academia. U.S. legal thought reached Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa through the transplant of legal institutions. The diffusion of U.S. legal styles often changed the process rather than the content of legal education, which resulted in local curriculum reforms that reflected the more pragmatic U.S. education style. Some scholars have harshly criticized the export of U.S. legal thought for its distinct adversarial judicial process that decentralizes power and privatizes disputes while creating advantages for the powerful and wealthy, expanding inequality and social stratification. Others have instead claimed that the diffusion of teaching methods geared to the adoption of U.S.-based clinical legal education aims at informing, adapting, and promoting social justice in a way that addresses the contextual realities of the importing country.



Publication Date


Book Title

Constitutionalism in the Americas


Edward Elgar Pub


U.S. law, legal education


Law | Legal Education

The Global Diffusion of U.S. Legal Thought: Changing Influence, National Security, and Legal Education in Crisis