New Public Law and the Meaning of Law

Law is a system of rules developed by a society or government to deal with crimes, business agreements, and social relationships. It can also refer to a specific branch of law such as criminal or family law. Law can also refer to a specific legal profession, such as the judiciary or the police. A related concept is New Law, which refers to companies, startups and law firm subsidiaries that provide legal services in innovative ways.

The most basic definition of law is the aggregate set of rules that a sovereign sets for men as political subjects. This approach views the law as a tool of social control, which is coercive by nature. Other definitions of law focus on the purpose and function of law. Roscoe Pound, for example, created a definition of law that focuses on the way in which social wants are satisfied through the use of legal technique.

Many legal scholars have contributed to this literature on the meaning of law. Some have analyzed the process by which laws are produced, focusing on the articulation of principles that determine how law is written and interpreted. These scholars have developed a theory of law as a “normative science,” wherein the rules are not merely descriptive but rather impose a structure on reality. Other scholars have focused on the nature of legal authority and the relationship between law and politics.

In the era of New Public Law, scholarship on law has shifted from a focus on process justification to one centered on the problem of how to achieve the desired end—to move beyond simply justifying existing law and addressing its actual operation. This has required a shift in scholarly attention from judges to legislators and administrative decisionmakers. It also has shifted the analytical emphasis from the doctrinal to the functional and normative, from the translation of public policy into judicial doctrine to the translation of legal technique into legislative and administrative technicalities.

The New Law literature offers a way to understand how new law is made, and the dynamic process of the evolution of a legal system. It can also help to identify what needs to be changed and how. It can also inform decisions about which law to create, and how to change the existing law. It can lead to a more holistic understanding of the legal system and the problems that plague it, which will ultimately improve the quality of the justice system for everyone. It is a valuable addition to the scholarship on law and a crucial component of a legal academy that has been anemic for too long. —John Yoshino, Yale University