What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that regulates the behavior of people or groups and enforces those rules through penalties. Rules can be created by a group legislature or by individual legislators, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established through judges’ decisions, in common-law countries. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts, including agreements aimed at resolving disputes outside of court. The purpose of law is to provide social order and protection of personal and property rights. Its four primary aims are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and preventing abuses of power.

Different schools of legal thought have differing views about what law is or should be. The natural-law theorists argue that a legal system embodies principles of natural justice and should be based on an agreement between those who govern and those who are governed. More recent writings in the school of positive law have emphasized that laws should be based on clear statements of moral and political philosophy.

The legal professions include a wide range of careers. Lawyers and law students must develop a good understanding of both the law and how people think about it in order to practice successfully. Law scholars examine the historical development of law and study the impact it has on society. Some focus on specific areas of the law, such as criminal law and the law of war. Others explore the relationships between law and other areas of human endeavor, such as economics, religion, or social sciences.

Law can be defined in many ways, but the most important defining factors are its relationship to politics and its relation to the social structure of a nation. It is impossible to discuss law without considering the historical and cultural context in which it was developed. The felt necessities of a particular time, prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy (avowed or unconscious), even the prejudices of individual judges have all had a hand in determining the law as it has evolved through the centuries.

The law is a complex, ever-changing entity. It can be influenced by changing political climates, new technological developments, and the growing complexity of the world economy. It is imperative that a functioning legal system be able to adapt and change with the times, while preserving core values. This requires a careful balance between the competing interests of freedom and security, economics and ethics, social and private concerns, and judicial independence from government.