What Is Law?

What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It serves many purposes, but its principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in diverse ways. There is no universal system of law, and the legal landscape differs widely from nation to nation. There are, however, some recognizable features. For example, most countries that practice common law are divided into civil and criminal jurisdictions; there are also different types of court systems. Some countries that practice civil law use statutes to codify laws, while others rely on a tradition of case law and binding precedent established in the courts.

Law, as a discipline and profession, has become increasingly attractive to young people. There are numerous careers in law, including those of judges and lawyers who specialize in advising people on their rights and defending them in courts. The law is a vast and varied subject, and its precise definition is a matter of debate. It is often defined as the body of rules that governs human conduct, whether they are made by a legislature, executive or judicial branch of government or by private individuals through contracts and agreements. In addition to regulating the actions of individuals, governments, organizations and businesses, law defines the rights of citizens, sets standards for their behavior and establishes punishments for breaking these rules.

The earliest laws were unsystematic and oral. As societies became more complex, a formal legal system developed. In the Middle Ages, the European countries with a long history of rule by monarchs and royals adopted civil codes that consolidated and codified their law. A number of these systems are still in effect today, although some nations that once practiced civil law have merged it with other traditions such as those of common or Islamic law.

Other forms of law include religious laws, such as Shariah in Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are applied to religious and secular matters alike. Laws based on the Bible are also used in some countries, including Israel and Lebanon. Religious laws are typically applied in a limited fashion and are not subject to the same level of scrutiny and review as other legal systems.

Law is divided into several subtopics, such as employment law, family law, property law, torts and contract law. Each of these areas of law is governed by a separate branch of the judiciary, and each is distinguished from the others by its specific rules. These rules can be written by a legislative body, resulting in statutes; they can be enforced by the executive through decrees and regulations, or they can be established by judges through decisions and precedents, which are binding upon lower courts. Each of these laws can have many implications, from the way an employer treats his or her employees to how a court determines what evidence will be admissible during a trial.