What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has four principal goals: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Law has many components, including legal and constitutional processes, case law, legislative bodies, and administrative agencies. Its precise definition is a topic of intense debate and has been variously described as a science and an art.

Even in a well-ordered society, people disagree and conflicts arise. The law provides a mechanism for resolving these disputes peacefully, such as when two people claim to own the same piece of property. Laws also ensure that governments and public officials carry out their duties in a fair and equitable manner.

Civil laws cover matters such as torts (damages caused by wrongful acts) and contracts. Criminal laws govern conduct that is against a state or its representatives, such as murder and treason. International law addresses relations between states, encompassing issues such as foreign policy and treaties. Laws governing the economy include taxation law and banking regulations. Competition law, which stems from Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade doctrine, is designed to control businesses that use their economic power to distort market prices at the expense of consumers.

Governmental agencies devoted to the administration of law include the legislative branch of the executive branch, resulting in statutes; and the judicial branch of the executive branch, resulting in court decisions. The latter are largely guided by precedent, which is a rule established by a prior case with facts and law similar to those of a new dispute. Whether or not a court’s decision should be followed is a matter of choice, and both plaintiffs and defendants may challenge the decision by challenging the way the case was handled.

An individual who challenges the way a case was handled is called an appellant, and may request that another judge hear the appeal. The appellate court reviews the trial and determines whether the case was conducted properly. Another type of review is the impeachment process, in which a high government official’s misconduct is brought to light. The term law can also be used to refer to the body of legal knowledge that a person has accumulated, and the skills of an attorney or judge. This includes jurisprudence, which is the study of law and its structure, as well as statutory and case law interpretation, and research and writing. In addition, there are several other specialties within the field of law. For example, administrative law focuses on the regulation of governmental activities and administrative procedure; constitutional law deals with interpreting the constitution and amendments to it; and family law covers divorce and other related proceedings. These areas of law require the expertise of specialized lawyers. In general, lawyers must have an educational background that includes undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as relevant professional experience. For the most part, attorneys are hired on a contract basis to perform their services.