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How Long is the Coastline of the Law? Thoughts on the Fractal Nature of Legal Systems

David G. Post and Michael B. Eisen
The Journal of Legal Studies
Vol. 29, No. S1 (January 2000), pp. 545-584
DOI: 10.1086/468085
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/468085
Page Count: 40
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How Long is the Coastline of the Law? Thoughts on the Fractal Nature of Legal Systems
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Abstract

ABSTRACT Although citation to precedent in judicial opinions is a critical component of the network of rules that comprise “the law” in any area, there have been surprisingly few systematic attempts to use the abundant data available on citation patterns to uncover general principles about the structure of the legal system. We examine data on the number of times judicial opinions cite to, and are subsequently cited as, precedent to test the hypothesis that legal arguments and legal doctrine have a kind of “fractal” structure. Our model provides a reasonable fit to the citation data that we examined. There do appear, however, to be significant sources of variability in the data that are not explained by our simple predictive framework, and it is clearly far too early to draw any robust conclusions about the hypothesis other than that additional work along these lines appears to be warranted.

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