October 2, 2019

Understanding Legal Theory

Legal Theory encompasses the theoretical study of law, providing a framework for comprehending the principles and rules that are enforceable in a court of law. Often referred to as Jurisprudence, this subject serves as the backbone of legal education, influencing various legal domains. In law degrees such as the LLB law degree, students delve into the intricacies of contract, criminal, constitutional, and administrative law, alongside exploring legal methods and the English legal system.

Legal theory plays a crucial role in establishing a solid foundation for law students, offering a holistic view of the evolution of legislation and case law in the modern legal landscape. It goes beyond the concrete application of legal principles, delving into the theoretical underpinnings that shape legal systems.

What is the Meaning of Legal Theory?

The meaning of legal theory extends beyond the mere understanding of laws; it encompasses a broader scope that includes legal, moral, philosophical, and societal influences on the English legal system. The purpose of legal theory is to equip students with critical awareness, enabling them to navigate the complexities and challenges inherent in the legal environment.

What is the Point of Legal Theory?

As law students engage with legal theory, they analyse abstract arguments, evaluate authorities, and explore attitudes towards different areas of law. The subject prompts students to question the nature of law, its position in society, and the mechanisms of law-making. It encourages critical thinking about the English legal system, considering it not just as a set of rules but as an established institution designed for the benefit of society.

What are the Main Legal Theories

Throughout a law degree, students encounter a variety of legal theories that form the basis of their studies. These include:

  • Natural Law Theory and Criticisms: Natural Law Theory posits that there are inherent moral principles that govern law, criticised for its subjective interpretation of “natural” and potential clash with cultural relativism.
  • Legal Positivism and Criticisms: Legal Positivism asserts that law is derived from societal rules, separate from morality; criticism arises regarding its potential to legitimise unjust laws lacking moral grounding.
  • Legal Reasoning and Liberalism: Legal Reasoning involves deducing legal outcomes through logical analysis, often intertwined with Liberalism, emphasising individual rights and freedoms within legal frameworks.
  • Feminist Jurisprudence: Feminist Jurisprudence critically examines law through a gender lens, highlighting and challenging systemic biases, gender inequalities, and patriarchal structures within legal systems.
  • Moral Interpretivist Theories of Law: These theories suggest that legal principles should align with moral values, emphasising the ethical dimensions of law and encouraging consideration of societal morality in legal decision-making.

These theories raise fundamental questions about the nature of law, its role in society, and the mechanisms through which legal systems operate. They prompt students to analyse and debate concepts such as fairness, justice, and moral ideals within the realm of legal theory.


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The Role of Legal Theory in Politics

Legal theory not only shapes how laws work but also influences political ideas and societal norms. It’s like a guide that helps us understand how laws and politics interact. Imagine it as a part of philosophy that deals with the rules we follow in society. For instance, think about how fairness in laws can impact politics. Legal theory explores these ideas and helps law students see how laws connect with the bigger picture of society and politics. It’s like a tool that helps us figure out what’s right and fair in the rules we make and follow.

What is the legal theory of justice?

The legal theory of justice, as articulated in A Theory of Justice, asserts that every person is entitled to equal basic liberties and should have fair opportunities, ensuring an equal chance compared to others with similar abilities. This perspective emphasises the importance of equality and fairness in the distribution of rights and opportunities, aiming to create a just and balanced society where individuals, regardless of background, enjoy fundamental liberties and equal chances for success. The theory strives to establish a framework that upholds these principles, fostering a societal structure grounded in justice and equal opportunities for all.

What is the Marxist legal theory?

In Marxist legal theory, the interpretation stems from a politico-economic viewpoint, asserting that ‘law mirrors the interests of the ruling class and serves as a tool to sustain a specific social order. According to Marxist theorists, legal systems are not impartial frameworks but instruments used by the ruling elite to maintain their dominance and perpetuate existing power structures. This perspective contends that laws are shaped to safeguard the interests of the privileged class, contributing to the perpetuation of social inequalities. In essence, Marxist legal theory offers a critical lens through which the role of law in reinforcing class-based hierarchies is scrutinised and questioned.

How Legal Theory Enhances Your Law Degree

Studying legal theory provides law students with a multifaceted skill set. It facilitates an understanding of dominant legal, societal, and political philosophical concepts and their dynamic relationship with law. Lectures and tutorials centre around these theories, offering students an opportunity to explore their historical context and contemporary relevance.

As students delve into legal theory, they gain knowledge about the history, methodologies, criticisms, and standardised questions associated with legal theories. Armed with this information, students can engage in abstract philosophical debates, present well-founded arguments, and critically evaluate the theories that underpin legal systems.


Legal theory is a cornerstone of legal education, offering a theoretical framework that transcends the mere application of laws. It invites students to think critically, analyse abstract arguments, and understand the intricate relationships between law, morality, and society. As law students embark on their educational journey, dedicating time to the study of legal theory proves invaluable, enhancing their ability to navigate the complexities of the English legal system and fostering a deeper understanding of the principles that govern it.


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