Because of its method, doctrinal legal scholarship focuses on the pathology of the legal system—on law as dispute resolution seen in reported judgments. Sociolegal studies are free to look at law in different ways; however, the focus in the majority of such studies tends to be on those aspects of law that relate to dispute resolution—on the courts and the way in which various officials and other actors function in relation to the courts. Yet law is as much a way of avoiding disputes as it is of resolving them, and much of the effect of law lies outside the arenas where disputes are resolved.

Consider a cohabitation contract, setting out the rights and duties of unmarried partners. Jennifer Robbennolt and Monica Johnson show that, depending ...

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