What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules enforced through social or governmental institutions to ensure that members of society behave in certain ways. Its precise definition has long been a subject of debate, but it is usually understood to be a system that governs the behavior of people and communities through enforceable and binding precepts.

The main functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberty and rights. Unlike natural laws, which are universal in their application, laws are specific to each society and culture. They may be enacted by legislative bodies through statutes, decrees or regulations or interpreted and enforced by judges in common law jurisdictions using precedent.

As a result of this broad and complex nature, laws differ considerably from one country to the next. While the principal objectives of law are largely the same, there is often conflict between different national or cultural approaches. Moreover, the power to create and enforce law depends on who has the political and military strength in any given nation-state. Therefore, revolts against existing legal authority and aspirations for democratic rule or more rights for citizens are a regular feature of politics and the law.

While the study of law is highly interdisciplinary, it is typically divided into three core subjects for convenience: constitutional law, criminal law and civil law. Constitutional law deals with the constitution of a state or nation and the rights encoded in it. Criminal law encompasses the study of crime and punishment, while civil law covers lawsuits and the adjudication of disputes.

Within each of these areas are many sub-topics that further refine the study of law. For example, immigration law and nationality law involve the rights of people to live in a country that is not their own or to acquire or lose citizenship. Family law includes marriage and divorce proceedings, child custody issues, parental rights and property ownership. Commercial law covers contracts and business transactions. Evidence law relates to which materials are admissible in courts for a case to be built.

The law also provides a framework for dealing with disputes between individuals, whether they are a dispute between two companies or an argument over who owns an apartment building. The law also lays down rules for how courts can be run, including procedural matters such as discovery (examining facts and documents in the possession of opposing counsel before trial) and en banc judging (when a court holds a session with all of its judges rather than just a quorum). In addition to being a tool for government, the law is a rich source of scholarly inquiry into topics such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. In addition, it shapes politics, history and society in various ways and raises complex issues of equality and fairness.