Faculty Book Talk: J. Mark Ramseyer’s Second Best Justice: The Virtues of Japanese Private Law, Wednesday, September 30 at noon.

The Harvard Law School Library staff invites you to attend a book talk and panel discussion in celebration of Professor J. Mark Ramseyer’s recently published book, Second Best Justice: The Virtues of Japanese Private Law (University of Chicago Press).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015, 12:00 noon.
Harvard Law School Room WCC 2036 Milstein East C (Directions)
Sponsored by the Harvard Law School Library.
Lunch will be served.
Mark Ramseyer is the Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies. He spent most of his childhood in provincial towns and cities in southern Japan, attending Japanese schools for K-6. He returned to the U.S. for college. Before attending law school, he studied Japanese history in graduate school. Ramseyer graduated from HLS in 1982. He clerked for the Hon. Stephen Breyer (then on the First Circuit), worked for two years at Sidley & Austin (in corporate tax), and studied as a Fulbright student at the University of Tokyo. After teaching at UCLA and the University of Chicago, he came to Harvard in 1998. He has also taught or co-taught courses at several Japanese universities (in Japanese). In his research, Ramseyer primarily studies Japanese law, and primarily from a law & economics perspective. In addition to a variety of Japanese law courses, he teaches the basic Corporations course. With Professors Klein and Bainbridge, he co-edits a Foundation Press casebook in the field.

Ramseyer poster

“It’s long been known that Japanese file fewer lawsuits per capita than Americans do. Yet explanations for the difference have tended to be partial and unconvincing, ranging from circular arguments about Japanese culture to suggestions that the slow-moving Japanese court system acts as a deterrent.

With Second-Best Justice, J. Mark Ramseyer offers a more compelling, better-grounded explanation: the low rate of lawsuits in Japan results not from distrust of a dysfunctional system but from trust in a system that works—that sorts and resolves disputes in such an overwhelmingly predictable pattern that opposing parties rarely find it worthwhile to push their dispute to trial. Using evidence from tort claims across many domains, Ramseyer reveals a court system designed not to find perfect justice, but to “make do” — to adopt strategies that are mostly right and that thereby resolve disputes quickly and economically.

An eye-opening study of comparative law, Second-Best Justice will force a wholesale rethinking of the differences among alternative legal systems and their broader consequences for social welfare.” — University of Chicago Press

Book talk panelists include:

Theodore Gilman



Theodore Gilman, Executive Director, Harvard Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.


Richard Samuels


Richard J. Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science, Director of the Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Founding Director of the MIT Japan Program.


Allen Ferrell



Allen Ferrell, Harvey Greenfield Professor of Securities Law, Harvard Law School.


Recent Reviews:

“Ramseyer—often unorthodox, rebellious, paradigm-subverting—has occasionally found himself cast as the enfant terrible of Japanese law, economics, and politics. With this marvelous book, Second-Best Justice, he again takes aim at conventional wisdom with a brilliant, measured, and highly contextualized takedown of the common belief that low litigation rates in Japan indicate that the Japanese legal system is fundamentally flawed. Ramseyer offers an alternative, ingeniously nuanced explanation for why Japanese don’t sue: The system aims for good, not perfection. Ramseyer’s argument is so compelling that it’s difficult to imagine his ideas won’t form the next conventional wisdom. With a cavalcade of evidence that powerfully challenges dominant counterarguments, Second-Best Justice is essential reading that is sure to spark controversy, as well as change minds.” — Mark D. West, University of Michigan Law School

“This well-written book offers a wealth of fascinating information about Japan’s health care and legal systems. Ramseyer provides very concise and fascinating accounts of the labor practice and policy, landlord tenant law, consumer finance law, and more, which are set in historical context and both amusing and informative.” — Lewis A. Kornhauser, New York University School of Law

“In predictably insightful and lucid fashion, Ramseyer shows how the Japanese legal system ‘makes do’ with relatively simple, predictable rules to resolve a variety of common disputes. The result, it turns out, is a legal system that functions just fine—perhaps much better than one aspiring to perfect, individualized justice. Second-Best Justice is an astute commentary on the Japanese legal system, and by implication, the US system to which it is often compared.” — Curtis J. Milhaupt, Columbia Law School

“Replete with facts, figures, and statistical analyses, Second-Best Justice is a richly detailed examination of Japan’s ‘second-best’ system for handling personal injury cases—a system that, Ramseyer argues, puts the United States to shame.” — Daniel H. Foote, University of Washington and University of Tokyo

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