The Basics of Law

A law is a set of rules established by a government or community which are enforced by mechanisms created and imposed by the authority (which may include sanctions). The laws are often designed to achieve four broad purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights.

A major strand of the rule of law is due process, which guarantees that people are given a fair hearing before a decision against them is made. This principle has its roots in Magna Carta, which first recognised that a person’s fate should not be placed in the hands of one individual and therefore could not be arbitrarily decided.

The modern law of the United States comprises many levels,[1] including federal and state laws, as well as international agreements and treaties. Federal law consists of Acts of Congress,[2] treaties ratified by the Senate,[3] regulations promulgated by executive branch agencies,[4] and case law originating from the federal judiciary.

State and local laws cover everything from zoning ordinances to speed limits on city streets. These laws are often influenced by the national or local politics, as well as the culture and customs of the area where they are applied.

Contract law is an essential pillar of law, governing all agreements to exchange goods and services. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, namely land or buildings, and movable personal property, such as cars and computers. Intellectual property is a specific type of personal property governed by copyright and patent law. Company law and trusts are examples of legal arrangements that govern companies, foundations, and other entities. Commercial law covers complex contracts and a wide range of financial activities like banking, insurance, and stock trading.

The practice of law is regulated by statutes and by professional bodies, such as bar associations and law societies. Lawyers gain distinct professional identities through specified legal procedures, such as passing a qualifying examination or being formally admitted to the bar. They have a special duty to promote the public interest and are subject to disciplinary action when they breach the code of conduct. In addition, they must maintain ethical relationships with clients and colleagues. The law is also shaped by civil society, which refers to the social institutions and communities that form the political basis of the rule of law. The civil rights movements of the twentieth century reshaped thinking on the extension of the state, while Max Weber reshaped thinking about how the rule of law can be accountable to ordinary citizens. Modern military, policing, and bureaucratic power over everyday lives poses unique problems for accountability that earlier writers such as Locke or Montesquieu could not have foreseen. A significant challenge is how to extend the rule of law to these areas. This is a critical issue for a future global democracy. The law is an important part of a democracy, and it should be accessible to all. The law should be clear, uncomplicated to understand and apply, and not discriminate against any group.