When people collect themselves into a society, one of the first tasks is to determine the rules on which they will base their interactions with each other. Even among very developed societies, there will be profound variation in both the content and the form of these rules. Societies reach differing conclusion about the appropriate subjects and methods of regulation and, more relevant for us, the critical balance of individual rights and community interests.
We walk a fine line between studying laws and studying law. Laws are rules: important information about how business leaders should behave in all kinds of situations that have been considered and about which some positive law has been written. Law is a bigger concept: it encompasses the processes by which we consider the impact of various actions on individuals and society and determine which actions shall be rewarded and which shall be discouraged. We need to study laws, particularly about complex and developing areas of law like intellectual property and employment discrimination, but to the extent we are able to study law, you will be better equipped to face situations not yet imagined and to apply your knowledge and experience to anticipate how legal norms will be applied to your decisions.
Laws are more or less compulsory, but not at all comprehensive. They do not necessarily represent the highest and best aspirations for behavior, but rather a starting place for behavior that is fair and just. For business in particular, laws create a predictable landscape so that organizations can plan and operate through the long term, but they also protect individual freedoms. Lawyers spend three years learning how to navigate the intersections of law and business, and then spend more years in practice building competency. We have somewhat less time, but also a different goal. We will not fully plumb the implications of complex networks of state and federal law, but we will become comfortable enough with the concepts to be more effective planners and more effective partners with counsel when legal issues arise