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The Singapore Law Gazette

A Clear View of the Law by Low Kee Yang

“A Clear View of the Law” by Professor Low Kee Yang assumes a monumental task: to take complexity and to distill it into simplicity. In these unsettled and increasingly complex times, the law has filtered into all aspects of daily life. It is not so much “law and society” as “law is society.” This is one of the great merits of this book; it reaffirms law’s role as a moderating force for diverse societal relationships and explains how this occurs, silently, naturally, and organically, by taking the reader through the key constructs of the legal edifice. 

The tone of the book is detached, accessible and authoritative. The book neither proselytizes nor lectures. It explains, and, in the process, convinces. The law may, at times, be abstract, but it is also immediate and concrete. Through a series of short chapters, ranging in different sections from Policy to Proof, Morality to Maxims, Reasonableness to Requirements, the author patiently initiates the layman to the law, and, interestingly, reacquaints the practitioner with what the law is and what it could or ought to be. This oscillation between the actual and the normative, the practical and the philosophical is one of the great strengths of this book. It functions on multiple levels for readers of diverse backgrounds, needs and interests.

It has been said of football, by none other than Henry Kissinger, that the sport is complexity masquerading as simplicity. This book, too, reflects this type of sleight-of-hand. The law has many moving parts that interrelate and at times contradict. This book achieves a certain alchemy by presenting substance, philosophy and contradiction in a manner that gives the reader a sense of a seamless whole. At the same time, the mix is thought-provoking. The reader is invited to reflect upon the tapestry woven and presented by the author and to react thereto. There is thus an open invitation to the reader to engage with the analysis in whatever manner may be most appropriate, with a view to assessing both the author’s approach and insights. Does this particular sequence of concepts make sense? Could they have been organised differently? Do I agree with a given overarching point? The book is satisfying, to the extent that it stimulates this type of internal dialogue on the part of the reader.

So many people approach the law and lawyers with trepidation. It is tempting to say that this book “demystifies” the law as the title “A Clear View” suggests, but it actually does something more than that. It captures the law’s majesty, its relevance, and its immediacy in an accessible and intellectually rigorous manner. It is rare that a single, compact volume attempts, let alone succeeds, in explaining and linking concepts as diverse as fault, judicial discretion, and cross-border complications in a way that gives the reader a meaningful foundational understanding of the law’s purpose, structure, administration and functioning.

As society becomes more complex, the law has and will be called upon to address an increasing number of functions and tasks. It is the great “mediator” or “moderator.” Moreover, those administering the law will be called upon to carry out their duties with ever more sensitivity and social awareness. One of the great merits of this book is that it captures both the benchmark nature of legal concepts as well as the rolling or evolutionary nature of the law, particularly in common law systems.

For curious laymen, students beginning their journey, and practitioners engaged with their day-to-day matters, this book offers a valuable marker. As stated in an earlier comment on this volume, this book takes the trees with which lawyers are generally familiar and reminds us all of the glorious majesty of the legal forest. Whether we are engaged as citizens or as both citizens and legal professionals, it is useful to have a road map for reflecting on the law, its functioning and its effects.

This book performs the great service of bridging the gap between a professional vision of the law and its societal role. It is thus suitable for a range of readers all of whom will be participants in a society defined by heightened economic velocity, increased reliance on AI applications and outcomes, and a resulting quest to preserve the human element therein. Books that stop the counter and urge reflection, if only for a metaphorical minute, are valuable. This is one such book. The author is to be commended for conceiving and then executing such a worthwhile project that speaks to both the profession and the broader society. “A Clear View of the Law” is a useful and timely contribution to an emerging post-COVID world in which both specialists and non-specialists will be called upon to harness the forces of disruptive change to forge the society to which we all aspire.

For more information about the book, click here.

Member, Bars of New York State and Washington, DC
Former Associate Professor (Practice) SMU School of Law