The law is the system of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Laws can be enacted by collective legislative action, resulting in statutes, or by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, as is the case in common law jurisdictions. Individuals may also create legally binding contracts and are subject to civil, criminal, and other types of laws. The study of the law, known as jurisprudence, is an important part of many academic disciplines such as history, philosophy, sociology, and economic analysis.
The most widely accepted definition of law is that it is a set of rules enacted by a governing body or institution to guide social behavior. The governing body can be a legislative council, which sets policy, or a government or sovereign authority, which enforces the laws and administers justice. Laws are often based on the premise that people have a natural desire to behave in a socially acceptable way, and that societal norms should be reflected in the legal system.
Laws serve a variety of purposes, including maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. These laws shape politics, economics, and history in a variety of ways.
Because laws are a product of society’s values, they reflect a variety of views about what the legal system should be. Some view laws as being created by society and a represented majority, while others believe that the law should be based on natural principles. Both of these theories have implications for how laws are made, enforced, and adjudicated.
In modern times, the law is often categorized into broad areas. Contract law deals with agreements to exchange goods and services, and property law defines people’s rights and duties toward their tangible property, such as land or buildings. Tort law, a subset of civil law, provides compensation when someone is harmed by another’s conduct, such as an automobile accident or defamation of character. Criminal laws deal with offenses against the state, such as murder or treason.
Other types of law include administrative, international, and family laws. Those who work in the legal field are called lawyers, attorneys, or solicitors. Prosecutors are lawyers who prosecute criminal cases on behalf of the government, and public defenders are attorneys who represent defendants who cannot afford their own private attorney in criminal matters. Judicial officers and paralegals work in courts, and the clerk of court is responsible for registering and filing legal documents. Pretrial services officers screen applicants for pretrial release and monitor convicted offenders released under supervision. Law students typically participate in a variety of externships, where they work with local lawyers and governmental officials to learn the practical aspects of the law. Externships are also available to graduate students in law and other fields.