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  • Writer's pictureJavier Vega

Law as a tool for social justice

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

Law as a tool in a democracy allows to regulate a society. This can also be an efficient path towards equality.

Picture: Wix images

At times, social change is slow and uneven and can be brought about by different factors to differing degrees.

Even though a significant change in a society can be initiated by a number of scenarios, the most dramatic being revolution, change through law is a deliberate, rational, and conscious effort to alter a specific behavior or practice.

Through law, change aims at improving behaviors and practices in precisely defined social situations. The advantages of law as an instrument of social change reflect the fact that law in society is seen as legitimate, more or less rational, authoritative, institutionalized, generally not disruptive, and backed by mechanisms of enforcement and sanctions.

But law is not only present to provide the society with a set of rules according to which a society should function, it’s also a set of regulations which the society is supposed to adopt in its own way in order to ensure welfare to the people living there.

In this context, lawyers become change makers as they provide clients with the necessary tools to achieve justice.

The professional responsibility codes exhort lawyers to protect the system that safeguards individual rights in order to preserve societal values.

Lawyers have an obligation to work for the betterment of the legal system and have a unique role as guardians of the law.

According to Luban, Lawyers and Justice, is the image of the lawyer's role as that of moral activism. The moral activist views lawyering as a principled endeavor, seeing attorneys as morally accountable for the legal principles they advocate.

An example of moral activism lies in the work of Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall in the civil rights movement. Houston described the type of lawyering he performed as "social engineering. This model advocates that as social engineers, lawyers have to decide what sort of society they wish to construct, and use the legal rules at hand as tools. '

Social engineering involves a moral decision about the types of battles worth fighting, followed by the utilization of all the tools at a lawyer's disposal, including the rules of the courts and an awareness of the social setting in which the law operates.


Although law offers many advantages as an instrument of social change, it also has certain limitations. Awareness of these limitations helps to understand more fully the role of the law in social change.

We now live in a period when many people distrust the government and when people

disagree on fundamental social and moral issues. In such a period, it seems naive to suggest that the law is an expression of the will of the people.

For the great majority of individuals, the law originates externally to them and is imposed upon them in a manner that can be considered coercive. In reality, very few individuals actually participate in the formation of new laws and legislation.

Consequently, one of the limitations of the law as an instrument of social change is that elites tend to determine which laws are promulgated and which alternatives are rejected. As they do so, moreover, they take into account how this process may advance their own interests.

Other limitations regarding law as an instrument of social change include the idea that laws cannot easily produce social change unless they conform to prevailing morality and values. We now consider several such limitations.

Examples of law as a tool for social equality

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The Abolition of Slavery, Women's Vote and Children's Rights, are examples of law used towards equality

Abolition of Slavery

In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took effect after the end of the Civil War, and finally ended slavery throughout the United States. It also abolished slavery among the Indian tribes, including the Alaska tribes that became part of the U.S. in 1867.

Women's right to Vote

Passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote. The 19th amendment legally guarantees American women the right to vote. Achieving this milestone required a lengthy and difficult struggle—victory took decades of agitation and protest.

Children's Rights

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) includes their right to association with both parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for physical protection, food, universal state-paid education, health care, and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, equal protection of the child's civil rights, and freedom from discrimination.

Disclaimer: This article doesn't constitute any legal advice. If you wish to get any legal consultation please contact The Allongo Law Firm.


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