Law is the system of rules and regulations that governs a society. These rules can be enforceable by punishment, and they serve several purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Different legal systems serve these purposes more effectively than others. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but may also oppress minorities or suppress political opponents. A constitutional democracy, on the other hand, may promote social change through a process that allows people to debate and vote for the changes they want to see.
Law encompasses many fields, including jurisprudence (the study of law and its development), criminal law, civil law, property law, international law, and administrative law. Those who study law often focus on specific legal areas, such as torts, contracts, criminal procedure, or intellectual property. They may also explore the philosophy of law and the role it plays in a society.
The field of Law is complex and has a multitude of terms and concepts that are not readily explained. Some of the more common ones are:
binding precedent – A court decision that must be followed without a compelling reason or significantly different facts or issues. For example, a district court is bound by the decisions of the appellate courts that can review them, and all courts are bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.
arraignment – The first court proceeding in which a person charged with a crime is brought before the judge to be informed of the charges and asked to plead guilty or not guilty. Generally, the arraignment is conducted in private, although it can be public in some cases.
brief – A written document that lawyers submit to judges for each side in a case, explaining why the judge should rule in their client’s favor. The briefs are used as a guide for the judge in deciding the case.
evidence – Anything presented orally or in writing in a trial that is not the defendant’s testimony. Evidence includes witness testimony, documents, records, photographs, and even circumstantial evidence.
jury – The group of people that hears and decides the outcome of a case in a courtroom. The size of the jury varies from court to court, depending on jurisdiction and type of case.
jurisdiction – The geographic area over which a court has the authority to decide a case. The plaintiff usually chooses where to bring the case, and in some cases a court can have concurrent jurisdiction with another court over the same matter.
law, ontological definition – Holmes’s ontological understanding of law is that it is not something that is proclaimed, recognized, or enforced; rather, it is what bad men expect to happen. He likens it to a betting system. As experience flows, a participant’s probability estimates are updated and law is defined anew.
Law is a multifaceted and vital aspect of every society. The ability to enact and implement laws that promote the interests of everyone in a society is essential. Without it, chaos and conflict would reign supreme.