Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to ensure that members of a society adhere to certain standards and resolve disputes. These laws may be passed by a collective legislature, resulting in statutes, or by the executive branch through decrees and regulations. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts that are enforceable by the courts. Laws can be derived from many sources, including natural, written or implied, and unwritten traditions and customs. The fundamental functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
The study of law involves the examination of legal rules, precedents and processes as they pertain to specific cases. It is a complex subject that incorporates elements of sociology, history, philosophy, political science and economics. Law is also unique from other subjects, as it encompasses both normative and descriptive statements. Normative statements in law say how people ought to behave or what they should not require from other people, while descriptive statements in law describe the causes of certain actions or events.
A law school usually consists of several departments, each focusing on a particular aspect of the field. Some of these departments focus on the theoretical underpinnings of law, while others are more practical in nature. For example, the department of civil litigation deals with the practice of resolving disputes between parties to a contract, while the department of criminal justice deals with the prosecution of criminals.
There are also specialized fields of law that deal with different aspects of business, family or society. For example, taxation law examines the legal requirements surrounding the filing and payment of taxes. Immigration and nationality law concerns the right to live and work in a country that is not one’s own, the acquisition of citizenship and the problem of stateless individuals. Family law encompasses marriage, divorce and the rights of children. Commercial law deals with issues pertaining to the formation of businesses, ownership of property and the transfer of money. Administrative law covers the way a government manages its departments and agencies, including utilities such as water or energy.
Other fields of law include criminology, which studies the nature and cause of crime, and jurisprudence, the practice of interpreting and applying legal rules. Legal scholars are also concerned with the development and evolution of law, particularly how it is influenced by changing social conditions and cultural influences. The neo-realist school of law is an important counterpoint to the idealistic school, and examines how the actual working of law compares to its theoretical basis. The neo-realist approach is often used in conjunction with other approaches, such as the sociological theory of jurisprudence. The term “law” is derived from Middle English laye and Old English lagu, from Proto-Germanic *lagu (“something laid down”).