Policy Building Blocks, And How We Talk About The Law

Article by Cathy Gellis: “One of the fundamental difficulties in doing policy advocacy, including, and perhaps especially tech policy advocacy, is that we are not only speaking of technology, which can often seem inscrutable and scary to non-experts, but law, which itself is an intricate and often opaque system. This complicated nature of our legal system can present challenges, because policy involves an application of law to technology, and we can’t apply it well when we don’t understand how the law works. (It’s also hard to do well when we don’t understand how the technology works, either, but this post is about the law part so we’ll leave the issues with understanding technology aside for now.)

Even among lawyers, who should have some expertise in understanding the law, people can find themselves at different points along the learning curve in terms of understanding the intricacies and basic mechanics of our legal system. As explained before, law is often so complex that, even as practitioners, lawyers tend to become very specialized and may lose touch with some basic concepts if they do not often encounter them in the course of their careers.

Meanwhile it shouldn’t just be lawyers who understand law anyway. Certainly policymakers, charged with making the law, should have a solid understanding what they are working with. But regular people should too. After all, the point of a democracy is that the people get to decide what their laws should be (or at least be able to charge their representatives to make good ones on their behalf). And people can’t make good choices when they don’t understand how the choices they make fit into the system they are being made for.

Remember that none of these choices are being made in a vacuum; we do not find ourselves today with a completely blank canvas. Instead, we’ve all inherited a legal system that has chugged along for two centuries. We can, of course, choose to change any of it should we so require, but such an exercise would be best served by having a solid grasp on just what it is that we would be changing. Only with that insight can we be sure that any changes we might make would be needed, appropriate, and not themselves likely to cause even more problems than whatever we were trying to fix…(More)”.