Columbia Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



The engineering ideas associated with the Toyota Production System form a model of social organization that departs from bedrock assumptions of mainstream legal thought in both its rights-and-principles and law-and-economics variants.

In contrast to mainstream thought, the Toyota system (1) emphasizes the goals of learning and innovation (rather than of dispute resolution and the vindication of established norms and preferences), (2) combines the normative explicitness associated with formal rules with the continuous adjustment to particularity associated with informal norms (no dialectic of rules and standards), (3) treats normative decisionmaking in hard cases as presumptively collective and interdisciplinary (rather than the heroic labor of a solitary professional), (4) fosters a style of reasoning that is intentionally destabilizing of settled practices (rather than harmonizing or optimizing), and (5) attempts to bracket or sublimate issues of individual and retrospective fairness.

The Toyota perspective is potentially important to lawyers because it is an exceptionally elaborated version of ideas that have, with varying degrees of coherence and articulateness, influenced some emergent legal regimes. The paper traces Toyota themes in recent American developments in health and safety regulation and in the delivery of social services.

Date of Authorship for this Version

October 2004