The Institute was established in 1956 on the basis of from two already existing Polish Academy of Sciences departments: Criminology and Law Studies. It was renamed at the end of the 1970s, becoming the Institute of State and Law, but the name 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, from both 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), Janusz Szajkowski (Dec. 1987 – Nov. 1990), Andrzej Wasilkowski (Nov. 1991 – Dec. 1996), Andrzej Szajkowski (Jan. 1997 – Dec. 1999), Maria Kruk-Jarosz (Jan. 2000 – Dec. 2003) and Władysław Czapliński (Jan. 2004 – Feb. 2016). Currently, the Institute is managed by Prof. Dr Celina Nowak.
The crucial role in establishing the areas of research conducted at the Institute is played by the Scientific Council. The Council has also been chaired in the past by distinguished professors of law: Jan Wasilkowski, Jan Gwiazdomorski, Manfred Lachs, Maurycy Jaroszyński, Witold Czachórski, Jerzy Bafia, Jerzy Jodłowski, Leszek Kubicki, Andrzej Szajkowski and Ewa Łętowska. Currently, the Scientific Council is chaired by Prof. Andrzej Bierć.