The Law & You
Laws are the rules by which community members interact with each other, rules that extend to almost all areas of daily life. These can be as simple as the need to stop at a stop sign when driving; the enforcement of agreements (contracts) when individuals pledge to do something, such a renting an apartment or purchasing a car; or very complex aspects such as how the electric company goes about raising the rates it charges customers. Rules/laws may be federal laws, state laws, or local laws within a city, such as curfews.
There are different entities that play a major role around these rules of living. The legislature has the primary responsibility to actually develop state laws; new rules become law when the legislature passes them and the governor signs them. The police function to enforce behavior around the rules that define criminal behavior. When the police arrest an individual for breaking the law, a county or city attorney will then have the responsibility of prosecuting the suspect before the courts. The courts and judiciary formally make the judgment of whether the rules have been broken, and what the punishment will be.
In the criminal courtroom, prosecutors try to convince the judge or jury of their position, while defense attorneys represent the position of the defendant, arguing that the individual did not break the rules, or that there were circumstances that might justify the defendant’s actions.
In a civil case rather than a criminal case, the “prosecutor” is called a plaintiff. This is the person who pursues a claim against the individual, called the defendant. Lawyers may represent the plaintiff or the defendant, but not all plaintiffs and defendants are represented by attorneys. Representing oneself in court is acting pro se.
But much of what involves the law takes place outside of a courtroom; in fact, most lawyers seldom or never enter a courtroom. Their work may help prevent disputes in the future by writing agreements between individuals or businesses precisely, or by helping individuals prepare for how they would like to disburse their assets when they die. Lawyers also work to solve disputes before they ever get before a judge in a courtroom. Disputes may also be worked out through arbitration or mediation rather than in court.