Understanding the Practice of Law


Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in myriad ways. The law is a tool of political and social control; it serves to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, facilitate orderly change, and provide for accountability. Different nations have different legal systems and serve these purposes differently, ranging from authoritarian governments that keep the peace but oppress minorities to democratic regimes that empower citizens.

Nevertheless, there are many common terms and procedures used in the practice of law: arraignment – A court proceeding at which an accused criminal is brought before the judge or jury to be told of the charges against him or her and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

discovery – The process by which lawyers gather evidence for their cases prior to trial. In criminal cases, this may include interviewing witnesses, examining documents, and questioning the defendant. Typically, this is done before a trial begins but can be conducted during a trial if the defense or prosecution needs to know what is being alleged.

Unlike most other fields, the study of law requires special skills and training. The legal field is not primarily a matter of logic or empirical research, but of developing complex theories of morality and social science. This is a necessary and enduring endeavor, but one which is not easily accessible to the general public. Consequently, the law is often viewed as an unintelligible, intimidating and illogical field.