Legal realism is a way of thinking about the law that started in the early 1900s in the United States. Instead of just focusing on rules and theories, legal realists believed that the law should be practical and based on how things work in the real world. Let’s learn more about legal realism in this article.
Legal realism is a way of thinking about the law that believes laws aren’t always strict and unchanging rules. Instead, legal realists think that judges who make court decisions should consider the real world and the feelings of the people involved in a case. They believe that judges should consider how the law affects society and how it can be fair and just for everyone.
Legal realists understand that the law can be influenced by the judge’s own experiences and the world around them, making the legal system more flexible and connected to what’s happening in people’s lives. Legal realism encouraged looking at the actual effects of laws on people’s lives and society, making the legal system more connected to people’s everyday experiences.
Before we explore different stages and core claims of legal realism, let’s answer the primary question, “What is legal realism?”
What is legal realism?
Legal realism is a way of thinking about the law that believes laws aren’t just strict rules but are connected to the real world. Unlike the idea that laws are fixed and logical, legal realists think that laws are influenced by what’s happening in society, like how people live, what they need, and what’s fair.
They trust the fact that to comprehend the law, you want to consider how it squeezes into individuals’ daily existences and how our general surroundings, including social, financial, and political elements, mold it. In this way, legitimate authenticity advises that regulations resemble living things, changing and adjusting to what’s happening.
Legal realism is a way of thinking about the law that says judges don’t just follow strict rules when they make decisions. Instead, they are influenced by their own feelings, beliefs, and experiences. Legal realists believe that judges use their intuition and think about what’s best for society when they make decisions.
This idea challenges the belief that the law is always objective and follows strict rules. Legal realism reminds us that judges, just like everyone else, can be influenced by their thoughts and feelings when making important legal choices.
Legal realism is like understanding that the law isn’t just about rules in a book; it’s influenced by what’s happening in society. Things like money, who has power, and what people in a particular culture think are important all affect how laws are made and used.
Legal realists also say that the people who work with the law, like lawyers and judges, play a big part in shaping it. They make daily decisions that can change how the law works. This way of thinking shows that the law is always changing and adapting to what’s happening in the world.
How has legal realism evolved?
Legal realism, a way of thinking about laws, has grown and changed over the years. Think of it like a story that keeps getting new chapters. Each chapter talks about different things and adds new ideas to how we understand the law. So, legal realism isn’t just one idea. It’s a journey of thoughts and concepts people have explored and developed.
- Early legal realism (late 19th – early 20th century)
- American legal realism (1920s – 1930s)
- Post-war and contemporary legal realism (the 1940s – present)
Early legal realism (late 19th – early 20th century):
Early legal realism started in the late 1900s and early 2000s, mainly in the United States. Back then, smart people like Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Jerome Frank questioned the old way of thinking about laws. They said that judges, the people who make court decisions, are influenced by their own experiences and what’s happening in society.
In other words, they believed that laws are connected to the real world and how people live. This new way of thinking was a big change from how people used to see laws, and it laid the foundation for the modern legal realism we know today.
American legal realism (1920s – 1930s):
In the 1920s and 1930s, in the United States, some really smart people, like Karl Llewellyn, Felix Cohen, and Jerome Frank, were interested in understanding how laws work in real life. They didn’t just study rules on paper; they watched how courts and legal systems operated.
They looked at things like how judges made decisions, how legal institutions (like courts) worked, and how people in the legal system behaved. They wanted to know how society and money affected how laws were made and used. This way of studying laws differed from the old way, which only focused on written rules. These researchers wanted to see how laws affected people’s lives, and their ideas changed how people thought about laws.
Post-war and contemporary legal realism (1940s – present):
After World War II, the way people studied laws kept changing. People interested in laws started looking at more than just the rules on paper. They began to think about how our minds and society affect how laws are made and used. They talked to psychologists to understand how judges make decisions and studied how laws can impact different groups, like women and people of different races.
They realized that laws are connected to our feelings, thoughts, and how we live in society. So, they looked at laws from many angles, using ideas from psychology, sociology, and even how different groups of people are treated in the law. This new way of studying laws helps us understand how laws affect real people today.
What are the different types of legal realism?
Legal realism is like looking at a big puzzle. Imagine the puzzle is the law; each piece represents a different idea about how laws and society are connected. Legal realism is a way of understanding laws that look at many pieces of the puzzle to see how they all fit together. It helps people see the big picture of how laws work in the real world. Here are the main types of legal realism:
- American legal realism
- Scandinavian legal realism
- Critical Legal Studies (CLS)
- Feminist legal realism
American legal realism:
Legal realism resembles the understanding that appointed authorities, individuals who go with choices in courts, are impacted by numerous things. They don’t simply observe severe guidelines; they additionally contemplate their encounters and general surroundings while deciding.
For instance, they should seriously mull over what they accept as correct or that society’s thought process is fair. In this way, legitimate authenticity is tied in with the understanding that judges are individuals, and their choices depend on rules, their sentiments, and what’s going on the planet.
Scandinavian legal realism:
Scandinavian legal realism resembles analyzing how rules and regulations work, particularly in nations like Sweden and Norway. Rather than discussing regulations, these specialists concentrate on what regulations mean for individuals and society. They do this by seeing how courts and overall laws work and understanding what regulations mean for our daily existence. This assists us in perceiving how regulations shape our general public and how they can impact our lives.
Critical legal studies (CLS):
Critical legal studies is like a group of people who look at the law and think about how it can sometimes be unfair. They believe that the way laws are made and used can favor some people more than others, creating inequalities.
These specialists question the customary thoughts regarding regulation, recommending that the general set of laws be more pleasant and incorporate everybody similarly. They need to ensure that the law treats everybody the same way and helps make the world an equal spot for everybody.
Feminist legal realism:
Feminist legal realism is like a group of people who look at how laws affect men and women differently. They believe that laws can sometimes treat women unfairly. These experts study how legal decisions are made and find out if there are any biases against women. They want to ensure that laws are fair for both men and women and work towards changing the unfair parts from a perspective supporting women’s rights.
What are the core claims of legal realism?
Legal realism is a way of thinking about laws that differ slightly from other ways. It has some main ideas that help people understand how laws work and how judges and lawyers make decisions. These ideas are important because they give us special insights into the legal system’s functions.
- Law is indeterminate
- Judicial decision-making is influenced by social factors
- Law and morality are interconnected
- Focus on legal practitioners’ behavior
Law is indeterminate:
Legal realists believe that laws don’t always give clear answers to problems. Judges can decide how to use the laws, leading to different results. This happens because laws are influenced by many complicated factors like society, money, and politics. Legal realists say that laws alone can’t solve everything because there’s a lot of uncertainty in how they’re applied and understood.
Judicial decision-making is influenced by social factors:
Legal realists say that when judges decide, they are affected by things occurring in the public eye, similar to what individuals think and what means a lot to them. Judges don’t simply adhere to the guidelines; they likewise ponder what’s happening on the planet and what many people accept is correct or wrong.
These outside factors affect how judges understand and use the laws, making their decisions reflect what society thinks is fair and important. Legal realism shows that law and society are connected, and judges consider what people care about when making choices.
Law and morality are interconnected:
Legal realists believe that what is right or wrong morally can affect how judges make decisions in the law. Judges sometimes use their own sense of what’s morally right or wrong when they decide legal cases.
This means that what people in society think is good or bad can greatly impact the decisions judges make. Legal realism shows that law and morality are connected, and judges think about right and wrong when deciding what the law means and how it should be used.
Focus on legal practitioners’ behavior:
Legal realists believe it’s essential to study how people like judges, lawyers, and policymakers act in the legal system. They think that the rules in law aren’t just theoretical ideas; real people use and interpret them. How these people think and act can affect how laws are applied and understood.
By looking at how these individuals behave and what influences their decisions, legal realists learn more about how the legal system works, showing that human actions are a big part of how laws are used.
What are the limits of legal realism?
Legal realism is like a special pair of glasses that helps people understand the legal system better. But, just like any glasses, they have their limits. These limits show that while legal realism is helpful, it can’t explain everything about the law. It’s like trying to see the whole picture through a small window. The following are the limitations of legal realism:
- Subjectivity and lack of predictability
- Underemphasis on legal rules and norms
- Limited prescriptive power
- Difficulty in generalization
Subjectivity and lack of predictability:
Legal realism implies understanding that judges settle on choices in light of their own contemplations and sentiments, which can vary starting with one adjudicator and then onto the next. This can make the overall set of laws eccentric because comparative cases may be chosen distinctively, relying upon the appointed authority’s viewpoint. In this way, in some cases, it’s difficult to tell what will occur in a legal dispute, which can be an issue for reasonableness and strength in the general set of laws.
Underemphasis on legal rules and norms:
Legal realism says that judges are influenced by social things and personal feelings, which is true. However, some worry that ignoring the official rules too much might make legal decisions seem random and unfair. Rules help make sure decisions are fair and make sense, so it’s important to consider both the judge’s feelings and the rules to have a good legal system.
Limited prescriptive power:
Legal realism is like studying how things are done in the real world of law. It helps us understand how judges and lawyers make decisions. However, it doesn’t tell us how to improve the law or fix problems. While it points out issues, it doesn’t give clear ways to solve them. So, even though it tells us about problems, it doesn’t provide easy solutions for improving the legal system.
Difficulty in generalization:
Legal realism looks closely at specific legal situations to understand how decisions are made. But because it focuses on individual cases, it’s hard to make big, general rules that apply everywhere. What’s true in one case might not be true in another, so it’s tricky to create broad rules that work for all legal situations.
Legal realism resembles a criminal investigator attempting to comprehend how regulations work. It says that regulations can be interesting and messy because they rely upon numerous things, similar to individuals’ thought processes and how judges choose. This thought assists us in seeing that regulations are not simply severe guidelines; they are affected by society, individual convictions, and how legal counselors and judges act. Legitimate authenticity assists us with checking out regulations in a more nitty gritty and sensible way, showing us that the lawful world is perplexing and brimming with fascinating riddles to settle.
Legal realism is like wearing special glasses that help us see laws more clearly. It tells us that laws are not always clear-cut and can change based on different situations and people’s thoughts. This idea helps us understand laws better by considering all the different factors that affect them, like what people believe and how they behave. Legal realism encourages us to look at laws from many angles, making our understanding of the legal world more complete. It’s like solving a big puzzle determining how laws and society fit together.