What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules, enforceable by government agencies, that regulate people’s behavior. Laws dictate how people may or may not treat each other, what they can or cannot ask from others, and what happens to them if they break the rules. Laws also establish a balance between the rights of individuals and the needs of society as a whole.

Legal systems vary greatly around the world. For example, some laws protect the environment while other laws punish racial or religious minorities. In addition, different systems use different methods for enforcing their laws. For example, some countries use police officers to enforce laws while other countries have a court system with judges and lawyers who decide cases.

Although the precise definition of law is controversial, most people agree that it involves a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to control people’s behavior. In the modern sense of the word, the term “law” refers to a written or oral document that sets out these rules.

The purpose of law is to create a more orderly and peaceful society by resolving conflicts, providing justice, regulating trade, and preserving the property of citizens. In a modern society, laws govern almost every aspect of life. Laws regulate contracts, determine people’s rights and duties toward tangible property (like land and buildings), and specify the responsibilities of government officials.

In a civilized society, the law protects people from being wronged by others and ensures that they will be treated equally regardless of their wealth or status in the community. It also defines core human, procedural, and property rights. In addition, laws provide checks on the power of governments.

Laws are often written by experts, such as scholars and judges. These experts develop their theories using concepts from a variety of fields, including philosophy, religion, and empirical and social science. This combination of intellectual disciplines makes law complex from a methodological point of view. However, law’s normative character deprives it of the causality that is characteristic of a scientific theory (like the law of gravity) or a social science theory (such as the law of supply and demand).

The study of law is a popular field of academic study. It covers topics ranging from the philosophical basis of law to the practical applications of legal principles in real-world situations. Some lawyers specialize in particular areas of the law, such as criminal or civil law. Others have a general practice, representing people in lawsuits and other legal proceedings or giving advice about personal or business matters. Others are advocates for the public good. Some are called “public defenders,” who represent defendants who can’t afford a private lawyer in criminal cases. Still others are known as “pro se” attorneys, meaning they present their own cases without a lawyer. These professionals make a word-for-word record of what is said in a courtroom and produce transcripts on request. The process of arguing a case before a judge or jury is called a trial.