The Institute was established in 1956 on the basis of two already existing PAN departments: Criminology and Law Studies. It was renamed at the end of the seventies, becoming the Institute of State and Law, and then reverted back to the Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences in 1990. The function of the Institute is to coordinate and conduct basic research in the area of legal studies, both from the theoretical and practical perspectives.
The Institute has been always headed by leading Polish legal scholars: Jan Wasilkowski (Feb. 1953 – Nov. 1956), Stanisław Śliwiński (Jan. 1957 – Nov. 1957), Cezary Berezowski (Nov. 1957 – Oct. 1961), Manfred Lachs (Nov. 1961 – Jan. 1967), Adam Łopatka (Jul. 1969 – Sept. 1987), Andrzej Szajkowski (Jan. 1997 – Dec. 1999), Maria Kruk-Jarosz (Jan. 2000 – Dec. 2003, Władysław Czapliński (Jan. 2004- Feb. 2016. Currently, the Institute is managed by prof. Celina Nowak.
The crucial role in setting up the directions of research conducted at the Institute is played by the Scientific Council. The Council has also been chaired in the past by distinguished law professors: Jan Wasilkowski, Jan Gwiazdomorski, Manfred Lachs, Maurycy Jaroszyński, Witold Czachórski, Jerzy Bafia, Jerzy Jodłowski, Leszek Kubicki, Andrzej Szajkowski, Ewa Łętowska. Currently, the Scientific Council is chaired by prof. Andrzej Bierć.