What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is distinct from other areas of study in that it has both a normative and prescriptive character, dictating both what should be done (or not be done) and what may be done. The legal system is a complex structure, which encompasses many different subjects that are interlinked.

The precise definition of law is a subject of ongoing debate and it varies according to the cultural context of the speaker. In most nation-states, laws are enacted and enforced by the state itself or through an elected legislature. The enforcing mechanism depends on the political landscape, and the way in which it is organized, as well as the social and cultural values of the society in question. For example, in some societies the police are a separate entity from the judicial system; and in others there is a single independent authority that both creates and enforces laws.

Whether it is civil or criminal, the role of law in any country is to promote justice and ensure that a citizen’s rights are protected. The law aims to do this by establishing a set of guidelines to follow and providing a means of dispute resolution. The laws of any given state also determine who has the right to own property, marry, have children, and use the public resources provided by the government.

Law also deals with how a person can get compensation for damage to themselves or their property, such as through an automobile accident or defamation of character. This is called civil law, and is distinct from crimes committed against the state itself, which are dealt with by criminal law.

In modern legal systems, the sources of law are codifications in constitutions and statutes and a body of case law established by judges’ decisions. The latter is known as the “doctrine of precedent”, which binds lower courts in future cases on the same subject matter. Civil law includes areas such as torts, contracts, family law and land ownership, and commercial law includes commercial liens, sales, insurance, bills of exchange and insolvency laws.

A career in law involves the study of these topics as well as advising clients, appearing in court and giving decisions and punishments. The practice of law is overseen by a bar or law professional body, and lawyers usually earn their distinct profession through specific legal procedures (such as successfully passing a qualifying exam) and obtaining a special qualification such as a Bachelor of Laws, Master of Legal Studies, a Bar Professional Training Course or a Juris Doctor degree. The word lawyer is often used as a term of respect, and some are known as Esquire to suggest their status and a degree of higher education. Others have titles such as Barrister, QC or Doctor of Law. These titles reflect their area of specialism and their opinions on controversial changes to the law.

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