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Remaking Our Legal System for a Better Tomorrow

Tuesday, Jul 25, 2017

Prof. Gillian Hadfield’s “Rules for a Flat World” takes on the future of law

By: Carren Jao

Intelligent robots, self-driving cars, drones. Every day, a Jetsons kind of future is a step closer to reality. But along with these innovations come thorny questions of how societies will be able to cope with them.

Gillian Hadfield, the Richard L. and Antoinette Schamoi Kirtland professor of law and professor of economics

“The future will need rules. How are we going to make them?”

This question is what USC Gould Professor of Law and of Economics Gillian Hadfield addresses in her book, “Rules for a Flat World: Why Humans Invented Law and How to Reinvent It for a Complex Global Economy.”

Hadfield walks readers through the genesis of lawmaking; how it evolved in scope and complexity over the centuries; its limitations in the face of globalization, which Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas L. Friedman outlined in his tome, “The World Is Flat”; and finally, how societies can go about remaking their legal system with the future in mind.

Hadfield says the signs of the system’s stress are already evident, from the Brexit vote to the results of the last United States presidential election.

“These are large groups of people saying, ‘We don’t like the rules that are being used to decide how technology, trade and immigration will develop. We don’t feel like we’re a part of those rules being made,’” she says.

Two experiences gave Hadfield the idea for this book. First, as a young professor, Hadfield found herself tangled in a


complicated and difficult custody litigation case. “It was a little bit like that doctor who gets sick and finds out [the medical] system doesn’t work so well,” she recalls.

Second, her work with the Southern California Innovation Project, funded by a $675,000 grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, allowed her to interview the general counsel at companies like Google, Apple and Cisco that look deeply into globalization and technology. “I was constantly hearing how our legal systems aren’t doing what these companies need them to do because things have changed so much,” she says.

If we would like to secure our future prosperity, it’s time to do things differently, argues Hadfield. “We need some really different ways of building the rules we need for our economy and society. Our system worked well in the 20th century, but we need people to think more creatively. We need to be as innovative about our rules as we are about our technology.”

Watch a short video based on Prof. Hadfield’s “Rules for a Flat World” at



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