The Basics of Law

Law is the body of rules devised by social institutions to regulate human behavior and to settle disputes between individuals and groups. It is a crucial element of social order, as well as the basis for much of scholarly inquiry into such subjects as sociology, history, philosophy and economic analysis.

There is a broad range of laws, from those that apply to specific fields such as family law or the law of business to those that govern the behaviour of the whole society. There is criminal law, which deals with offences against the public interest or morality, and civil law, which involves legal disputes between private parties.

Most countries have a legal system that includes both common and civil law. Common law systems rely on judge-made precedent, whilst civil law systems are based on the concept of contracts and obligations between private individuals. Civil laws in general are influenced by Roman law, although they often incorporate elements of other traditions and cultures. Some common laws are derived from religious scripture, such as the Jewish Torah or Islamic Sharia law.

The development of law has been shaped by a number of factors, including the rise of the state and its capacity to exercise power over many aspects of everyday life. Historically, there was an attempt to limit the extension of the state, but modern military, police and bureaucratic organisations pose new challenges to the notion of limited government.

A large proportion of modern law is based on contracts, and there are a wide variety of types of contract: the sales agreement, the employment contract, the partnership agreement, the property purchase agreement. There is also a lot of tax law, financial regulation and banking law.

Consumer law, competition law and industrial regulations are also very important areas of the law. These include laws against cartels and monopolies, laws regulating the supply of utilities such as water and energy, and legislation that seeks to protect consumer interests.

There are also a number of specialities in law, including the law of trusts (based on the separation of ownership and control), the law of property, company law (based on the principle of joint stock companies) and the law of copyright (based on the idea that original works should be protected from unfair copying). All of these areas of law have been heavily influenced by the work of philosophers such as John Locke, Adam Smith and Max Weber. Many modern lawyers are trained to a high level in a specific field of law, and have to meet certain professional standards before being allowed to practise. They are required to take a qualifying examination and to complete a legal education. They have a distinct professional identity and are regulated by a bar council or law society. They can be employed by law firms or may be self-employed. In some jurisdictions, a lawyer must be supervised by a senior member of the bar. This is to ensure that they are competent to practice and to defend the reputation of the profession.