What Is “The Law”?

20 Dec What Is “The Law”?

America is the best place to live in the world—at least from the perspective of the lawyers in our firm. And Columbia, Missouri, is among the best places to live in America—again from our perspective.  Almost all of the reasons for these two opinions stem from “the rule of law.” Americans don’t think about that concept very much, but the idea that there should be rules that govern the actions of all the men and women in our city, state http://www.betteroutfitideas.com, and country—and that those rules should be superior to any person’s whims or dislikes—remains revolutionary.  Very few of the world’s inhabitants live in a country where the rule of law triumphs over everyone in that country—whether rich or poor; politically powerful or weak; and regardless of race, religion, sex, or disability.

Our country is far from perfect, but it still makes the 5 sexy outfit ideas you should not miss greatest effort to assure justice and equality for every citizen, and in spite of the fact that it never quite succeeds at this task in every circumstance.  That lack of total success at this task is due, in part, to the fact that the idea of America is unnatural.  The primitive human wants to surround himself or herself with people of the same race and to dominate his surroundings and fellow humans by force.  Only the rule of law can curb these primitive impulses. Most of the time the law succeeds, but sometimes the primitive or anti-social impulses of one or more people interferes with justice.  When that happens, the rule of law helps set things right again.  Were it not for the rule of law, our experience would be like most of the countries on earth, and we’d be living under some form of dictatorship.

America is a continuing experiment that seeks to answer the question: is it possible for many very different people with different racial, religious, physical, emotional, and cultural characteristics nevertheless to live together peacefully, happily, and productively—in spite of those differences? The rule of law makes “yes” a possible answer to that question.  But the truly correct answer to that question is: “yes, but only so long as the rule of law is preserved.”  The members of our firm believe that our profession—and what we try to do every day—is to preserve the rule of law and to help our clients live and prosper under those laws.

But what is “the rule of law,” and, for that matter, what is “the law?”

If you lived on a remote tropical island and were the only human inhabitant of that island, “the law” would be whatever you wanted it to be.  Of course, you couldn’t change the laws of physics, but eating at any time of day and wearing nothing at all would not result in any punishment.  Add some more people to the island, however, and pretty soon there would be a list of rules which you and your fellow inhabitants would have to agree to abide by if you were going to live together peacefully. Otherwise the most physically powerful among your group would make the rules. That is the function of laws:  to minimize the problems caused by people living close together, and to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak.

Human beings have been making rules for themselves for more than 10,000 years, and many of those rules were written down and adopted to handle the same kinds of problems humans still have in the 21st Century.  That same long history of people adopting rules of behavior has seen the replacement of seemingly simple rules such as “Thou shalt not kill” with complex and nuanced rules designed to take into account the infinite variety of human behavior.  Thus killing another human being in a wartime battle might be permissible, but shooting a commanding officer in the back, even in wartime, would not be.  Humans make these rules, humans interpret these rules, and humans are fallible. So “the law” also is fallible and imperfect.  Still, we Americans try to get it right when we can. But it’s complicated. That is why there are so many lawyers. It is one thing to know that a law has been written and to know the words that appear in that law.  It is quite another thing to determine whether that law applies to a particular situation. That is where lawyers, judges, juries, legislators, and voters get involved.

“The law” has come to mean the enormous number of often confusing and conflicting rules that have been adopted in America over the years by legislatures, judges, and regulatory agencies.  There are other “laws”  that have been adopted by religions to which some people belong, but the “laws”  with which we concern ourselves are the secular (non-religious) laws which have undergone the required process to become binding upon all members of the jurisdiction involved.

As different societies have changed from dictatorships (where the dictator makes all the rules and can change them on a whim) to democracies (where the “rule of law” is paramount), the exact wording of each rule has become much more important.  The “rule of law” means that the people in a society which is governed “by laws and not men” have to obey only those rules that qualify as “laws.”  The process by which an idea becomes a law you have to obey is complex, and once that law is in place, exactly how it is worded becomes the most important thing in determining whether you have obeyed or disobeyed that law.  That is where lawyers can provide a service many people consider as very valuable—assistance in deciding whether a past action was—or whether a future activity will be—lawful or unlawful.  Since the U.S. has tens of thousands of laws pertaining to almost every aspect of life, knowing how an organization should proceed or how you personally might be affected by a law is necessary.  You can try to figure it out on your own—just as you could try to repair a cavity in one of your teeth on your own—but the odds don’t favor “self-help” in either situation.

Laws can be created by the United States government (federal laws), the government of a particular state, by counties within a state, by cities, by special governmental districts (like a sewer district), by federal, state, or local regulatory agencies, by judges, by appellate courts, and even by treaties between the U.S. and a foreign country.  In a dictatorship, knowing what is permissible may be simply a matter of knowing the dictator; in the U.S., sometimes knowing whether something is permissible requires a great deal of skill, research, knowledge, and perseverance.

The members of our firm have studied the law for years and continue to study it in order to be able to advise you and help you with whatever legal problem or opportunity you may have.  We look forward to providing you with our legal advice and counsel.

This article is not offered, nor should it be construed, as legal advice. You should not act or rely upon information contained in these materials without specifically seeking professional legal advice. You should consult an attorney if you have any questions about your legal matter.
© Van Matre, Harrison, Hollis, Taylor & Elliott, P.C.


Craig A. Van Matre (Retired) has been in the private practice of law since 1975 in Columbia, Missouri. Before retirement, he focused his practice on business, taxation, and municipal law matters, including estate planning, corporate and tax planning, and real estate transactions. Mr. Van Matre was included in the 21st Edition of The Best Lawyers in America in the practice of Real Estate law. He was also recognized in the Best of CLE Spotlight for Outstanding Leadership and Dedication to MoBar CLE.