Law is the body of rules created and enforced by societies and governments to control behaviour. These are generally accepted as being fair and equitable by most people and, if they are breached, sanctions can be applied. Law can be considered to have four main purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
Different countries have different legal systems. Some follow the common law, which originated in England; others use civil law, derived from Roman law. Both systems differ in terms of how judges and legislatures make laws, but there is cross-fertilisation between the two. In common law systems, judicial precedent stands on an equal footing with legislation and other sources of law. In other systems, legislatures and agencies make the laws, and judicial decisions only serve as non-binding persuasive authority.
The law influences all aspects of society and human behaviour, but there are special fields in which the laws are especially important. These include contract law, criminal law, family law, maritime law, property law, labour law and medical jurisprudence. Contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods or services; it covers everything from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Criminal law defines crimes and the penalties for committing them; family law establishes parents’ rights toward their children, including their right to custody of them; and property law establishes people’s rights and duties toward tangible and intangible property (such as land or cars), as well as money, bank accounts and shares.
Many professions deal with the law – those who give advice about it, represent people in court and so on are known as lawyers or jurists. There are two kinds of lawyers: those who specialise in transactional work, called solicitors, and those who practise litigation, called barristers. Other professions that have a significant interest in the law include accountants, insurance brokers and police officers.
Those who write articles about the law are often called journalists. In general, they try to explain the complexities of the law in a way that is easily understood by non-experts. Articles in this field can range from high-level political commentary to more technical studies of recent changes in the law.
Anyone with good research skills and a pragmatic mindset can write an article about law, but it takes specialist knowledge to produce a highly effective one. This is particularly true for legal journalism, which must be both clear and accurate. There are also certain jargon terms which journalists must know in order to fully understand and explain the law. These include the words ‘advice’, ‘contempt’ and’suspension’. If they don’t know these terms, they will find it much harder to persuade people that what they are writing is correct and unbiased. It is therefore important for journalists to read widely in the area of law, to keep up with developments and to be aware of the opinions of other journalists in their profession. This will help them to write articles which are authoritative and informative.