Lousiana Civil Law how this Relates to doing Business in Lousiana

Not everyone knows that Louisiana is unique among American states for having a completely different system of law. “Common law” is what the other United States and England have, as opposed to “civil law”, which is the type of law governing Louisiana, and most of the rest of the world.

One main difference between common law and civil law is that judges in common law jurisdictions have to respect the prior decisions of other judges, and civil law judges do not. It is called the “Napoleonic Code”, and it gets a brief mention from Stanley Kowalski in the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

What practical difference does this make? It is harder to do interstate commercial transactions with people in Louisiana; many times it means that you have to hire an extra, local lawyer to get things done. Large national banks hire locals to straighten out their contracts.

Young lawyers who are trained at Tulane or Louisiana State University grow up in the tradition and take special “code” classes. They pretty much can’t practice in any other state, which tends to make the Louisiana lawyer, and the Louisiana politician, an isolated breed.

The Louisiana law of property doesn’t allow the note-holder of property to retrieve it without the buyer’s consent. That means that there are no car repossessions in Louisiana. If somebody comes up to you in a bar and claims to be a “repo” man from Louisiana, you have another reason to find somebody else with whom to talk; he’s lying.

Also, the Louisiana statutes are studded with words and names that sound like they are making stuff up down there: “usufruct” is one of them, the legal right to benefit from property that doesn’t belong to you, something like squatter’s rights. “Lesion beyond moiety” means the seller of real estate can rescind a sale if he is getting less than half of the value. Also, “redhibition”, like a lemon law, means that the buyer of a defective product has the right to a full refund. Unlike a “lemon law”, rehibition applies to any purchased item, from a pencil sharpener to a levee.

These words sound great if you pronounce them with a thick, lingering, slow-eyed Cajun accent, drawing out the syllables and giving you a moment to reflect that these laws reflect a different relationship between people, a different balance, and that suits Louisiana just fine.