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Page 1: There are a number of possible approaches to the study of law. One such is the traditional or formalistic approach. This approach to law is posited on the existence of a discrete legal universe as the object of study. … The essential point in relation to this approach is that study is restricted to the sphere of the legal without reference to the social activity to which the legal rules are applied.

p 6: As the common law courts became more formalistic and more inaccessible, pleas to the Chancellor correspondingly increased and eventually this resulted in the emergence of a specific court constituted to deliver ‘equitable’ or ‘fair’ decisions in cases that the common law courts declined to deal with.

Source: The English Legal System 2012-2013, Gary Slapper

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/formalism?q=formalistic#formalism__18:

  1. [mass noun] Excessive adherence to prescribed forms:

Is this consistent with the definitions at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/formal? What are the similarities and differences? Can formal be used here in both quotes?

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In the first context, I suspect "formalistic" refers to the other definition on the page you linked:

A description of something in formal mathematical or logical terms.

So there, I think they mean a very logical approach to studying law.

For the second one, 'formal' is OK. "Formalistic" specifically refers to rigidity and adherence to established procedure in this context. Saying "formal" here is slightly less jargon-y and implies slightly less strong adherence to procedure, but it works fine.

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