Every society has disputes, and law provides an important means for settling disputes. As legal anthropologist Karl N. Llewellyn (1960:2) famously wrote a half-century ago,
What, then, is this law business about? It is about the fact that our society is honeycombed with disputes. Disputes actual and potential, disputes to be settled and disputes to be prevented; both appealing to law, both making up the business of law . . . . This doing of something about disputes, this doing of it reasonably, is the business of law.
By settling disputes through an authoritative allocation of legal rights and obligations, the law provides an alternative to other methods of dispute resolution. Increasingly, people in all walks of life let the courts settle matters that were once resolved by informal and nonlegal mechanisms, such as negotiation, mediation, or forcible self-help measures. It should be noted, however, that law deals only with disagreements that have been translated into legal disputes. A legal resolution of conflict does not necessarily result in a reduction of tension or antagonism between the aggrieved parties. For example, in a case of employment discrimination on the basis of race, the court may focus on one incident in what is a complex and often not very clear-cut series of problems. It results in a resolution of a specific legal dispute, but not in the amelioration of the broader issues that have produced that conflict.