Law is the body of rules a society or government develops and enforces in order to deal with crimes, business agreements, and social relationships. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and serves as a mediator between people. The law is often viewed as having moral, religious or emotional significance and may also be described as “natural law” or “moral law.”
A legal system is designed to achieve certain goals: it can keep the peace and maintain the status quo, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice and provide for orderly change. In the United States, the framers of the Constitution sought to ensure that no individual or group could become so powerful they were above the law by establishing three distinct branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial) and limiting their power.
The law is a social construct, and its precise definition remains a matter of debate. Its main function is to regulate behavior through enforceable sanctions, and it can be enforced by an individual or by a group. It can be created by a legislative body, resulting in statutes; by the executive branch, resulting in decrees and regulations; or by judges, creating a body of case law known as precedent. Individuals can also create legal contracts that are binding, and the law governs the exchange of money and property through contract law.
The most common branches of law are criminal, administrative, family, labour and transactional. Labor law covers the tripartite industrial relationship of worker, employer and trade union; it involves collective bargaining regulation and the right to strike. Family law is the area of legal practice concerned with marriage, divorce and children’s rights. Criminal law regulates the activities of police, courts and prosecutors in the fight against crime.
Transactional laws concern commercial and financial activity and include corporate, tax and intellectual property law. Biolaw is a field that examines the intersection of law and the biosciences.
The practice of law requires the completion of a degree program, the passing of an examination and the successful acquisition of a license to practice law. The legal profession is regulated by law societies, bar associations and other independent regulating bodies. Lawyers are often required to abide by ethical codes and must satisfy the requirements of their jurisdiction for admission to the profession, which may include a minimum age of 18 or 21 in some countries. In addition, most lawyers must complete a university degree program that results in a bachelor’s, master’s or doctor of law degree. In some countries, legal education is subsidized by the state. In other cases, the cost of legal education is paid for by private individuals or organizations. Some lawyers are self-employed, and in some instances, are hired by businesses that seek to comply with the law. Others are employed by the public defender’s office or the private firm of attorneys. Law is a very complex subject that encompasses many areas of study and application.