Law is a system of rules that a society develops to deal with crime, business agreements and the social relationships between people. It helps ensure that everyone is treated fairly and that there is order in society. When two people claim the same piece of property, for example, the law can decide who owns it. The law also ensures that governments and other public officials carry out their duties properly. It is an important part of a well-functioning democracy.
The law shapes politics, economics and history in many ways. It can be broadly divided into civil and common law. Civil law is a set of rules that are generally consolidated into codes and made easily accessible to citizens. It is an adaptable system, with provisions to allow judges to respond to changes in society through interpretation and creative jurisprudence. It is a well-defined system, with clear expression of rights and remedies, a logical structure to facilitate its use and silence in the code to be filled in based on equity, general principles and the spirit of the law.
In contrast, common law is a system that relies on judge-made precedent. Blackstone said that judges are the depositories of common law and that if their determinations are not clearly contrary to reason they should be followed in future cases. He recognised, however, that judges had to make judgments in difficult circumstances and that their decisions might not always be right.
The law is a powerful tool but it cannot mandate behaviours that are beyond human capabilities or force people to act against their consciences. Those precepts are essentially religious, such as the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, or they may be derived from the natural world, for example, environmental law or natural justice.
Legal articles are typically written for lawyers, but they can also be for lay readers. The tone is usually serious and academic but the writing should be accessible to a non-lawyer audience. In areas of law that are of particular interest to lay readers, the language can become more technical and the article might take a position on controversial changes to the law.
Legal writing should be focused on the reader and be free from jargon. It is often easy to lose sight of this basic point in the midst of discussions of complex issues, but it is crucial. When writing, ask yourself if your grandparents could read it without difficulty – if not, then the article is probably too complicated. It is also vital that an article addresses its audience with clarity and authority. Otherwise it will be ignored. An effective legal article will be engaging, arresting, informative and succinct. In the end, it is not WHAT the law is that matters but WHY the law exists. That is what gives the law its authority. If a lawyer can communicate this to the non-lawyer audience, then the article has achieved its purpose. If not, it has failed.