The Basics of Law


Law is the system of rules that a government or society develops and enforces in order to deal with crime, business agreements, social relationships and more. It is a major field of study for those interested in philosophy, economic analysis, sociology and history. The precise definition of law varies widely, as do the different ways that it is applied in a particular country or community.

There are many branches of law, covering everything from contracts to property rights, but a common thread runs through them all: the laws that govern people’s behavior are created by and enforceable by political institutions. The nature of these institutions varies from place to place, but in most countries the power to make and enforce laws is vested in the people, through elected representatives. The exercise of this power is a fundamental part of democracy.

In most cases, a violation of the law is a criminal act, punishable by fines or prison time. The other main area of law is civil, addressing disagreements between individuals or organizations. These are dealt with by a combination of procedures and rules set down in statutes and case law.

The study of law is known as jurisprudence, and it covers a broad range of subjects from the structure of legal systems to the nature of legal authority and the role of judges and lawyers. It also encompasses a variety of philosophical approaches to the law, such as utilitarianism, naturalism and libertarianism.

A lawyer’s job is to interpret and apply the law to a specific situation. The lawyer’s client is usually represented by a prosecutor or defense attorney, although some cases are decided by a single judge alone. Lawyers must understand and respect the governing statutes, but they must be prepared to challenge them when these do not adequately protect the rights of their clients.

Court proceedings are recorded, and the written record is called a transcript. The judge and the lawyers often have private conversations out of earshot of the jury during a trial. The judge may ask the jurors to be sequestered, or removed from other influences, during deliberations.

A decision in a lawsuit is called a judgment. The party making the decision is known as the plaintiff or defendant. Those who oppose the judgment may request that the case be reconsidered, which is known as an appeal. An appellate court will consider whether the original ruling was correct and based on the facts of the case. The parties requesting the appeal are known as appellants and respondent. The prevailing law in the United States is based on precedent, or prior decisions by courts of appeals. The Supreme Court reviews appeals from other courts in the United States. The court of appeals’ decisions are based on the law and the evidence presented in the trial. This is known as case law.