What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules governing human behaviour that are enforced by a state or other social institutions. It shapes politics, economics and history in many ways. It also raises fundamental questions about equality, fairness and justice. Law is the subject of much scholarly inquiry in fields such as legal history, philosophy and sociology.

Modern law is a diverse field, covering almost all aspects of human activity. It is commonly broken into three categories, though many subjects intertwine and overlap:

Legal systems can be broadly divided into civil law jurisdictions, where a central legislative body codifies laws as statutes, and common law systems, where judges’ decisions are binding on lower courts through the “doctrine of precedent”. Historically, religious law played a significant role even in secular matters, and some religions still retain their legal systems today.

The governing bodies of the legal system establish its professional identity through a process of regulation, usually including a qualifying exam, a period of practical training and subsequent registration as a lawyer. Lawyers may be given the title of Esquire to indicate their status, or Doctor of Laws, which indicates a higher academic qualification.

Some of the most important goals of law are to protect individuals and their property, to ensure a well-ordered society and to ensure that everyone receives equal treatment under the law. The law can resolve conflicts, such as those between neighbours over land ownership. It can also provide a framework for how the police and other public officials conduct themselves.

It can also help to keep people safe by regulating activities that are deemed harmful to the public, such as illegal drugs and gambling. Finally, the law can be used to punish people for breaking the rules.

In modern times, the concept of law is often framed as an adversarial one, whereby lawyers act on behalf of their clients to defend their rights and interests in a court of law. This is contrasted with a non-adversarial approach, such as a collaborative process or alternative dispute resolution, whereby lawyers seek to resolve disputes through negotiations and mediation rather than in court proceedings.

In addition to its direct application to the everyday lives of citizens, the law is also a subject for research in many areas, such as constitutional law, jurisprudence, criminal law, international law, economic analysis and sociology. It is the basis of many careers, including those of solicitors and barristers, who are referred to as experts in the law. It is also the subject of study for students pursuing degrees in law, such as Bachelors of Laws, Master of Laws and Juris Doctor degrees. The legal profession is regulated by governments and independent governing bodies, such as a law societies or bar associations. This regulates the practice of law, and enshrines a code of ethics. Similarly, there are disciplinary bodies that can investigate complaints against lawyers. These can include disciplinary tribunals and appeals panels. They can award a range of sanctions, up to and including disbarment.

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