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This article provides an overview of an empirical study of a civil trial court and the environment of indigenous law and conflict resolution in which the court operates. The article combines an analysis of civil cases and litigants with an investigation of alternative nonjudicial approaches used by residents of the community. The first section of the article examines the emergence of legal conflicts from the fabric of social relationships in the community and compares cases and parties in the court with those that gravitate toward nonjudicial settings. The second section compares processes and outcomes available in the court with those that may be obtained nonjudicially. The article concludes that different categories of cases emerge from different kinds of social relationships and for this reason are associated with fundamentally dissimilar patterns of values, norms, procedures, and outcomes. It also emphasizes the benefits to be obtained from investigating the complex relationships and interchanges that link local level trial courts to their communities.

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Law & Social Inquiry: Journal of the American Bar Foundation

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