The other Methods Monographs have introduced a variety of theoretical frameworks and practical tools for studying how laws and legal practices influence behavior, environments and, ultimately, health outcomes in a population. Theoretically grounded research illuminating mechanisms of legal effect has at least three important benefits for public health law research and practice:

  • Defining the phenomena to be observed 
  • Supporting causal inference
  • Guiding reform and implementation

As the other Monographs show, this paper draws on a rich and diverse literature to understand mechanisms of law. There is no single correct theory, and therefore no need to make an exclusive choice. Rather, the choice of what theory or theories to draw upon is a practical one based on research questions and designs, types of law or regulatory approach under study, and state of current knowledge about the matter being investigated. This monograph first elaborates on why it is so important to investigate how, as well as whether, law is having an effect on health, using safety belt laws as one example. It then uses a second example in greater detail -- the health effects of criminal laws regulating HIV exposure through sex -- to illustrate how diverse theories of legal effect can be productively used.

This monograph is included as a chapter in the forthcoming "Public Health Law Research: Theory and Methods" book, which is expected to be published in Spring 2013.

Alternatively available through the Social Science Research Network (SSRN):