Law is a body of rules that governs the way people act in society. It includes a wide range of subjects, from property rights to contracts and monetary transactions.
A law is generally made by a government, which citizens must follow or face punishment for breaking. For example, if you break the law for stealing, you will be fined or go to jail.
In a country, laws serve many functions, such as to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect individual rights, ensure social justice and provide orderly social change. Some legal systems are more effective at these tasks than others.
Laws can be enacted by the state, through statutes and executive decrees and regulations; or established by judges, usually in common law jurisdictions. The word “law” can also refer to the written constitution that a nation adopts.
Some law is based on religion, while other laws may be inspired by or derived from natural philosophy and science. For instance, religious law is often based on divine precepts.
The law can also be influenced by a constitution, which defines the powers that a government must exercise and the rights of citizens to protect. For example, a national constitution might include provisions that limit the power of the state to command a citizenry and impose limits on its ability to violate basic human rights.
There are two main types of laws: civil and criminal law. The former is more concerned with specific rights and duties that individuals must meet, while the latter concerns a citizen’s rights to fair trial and appeal.
Civil law, which is common in the United States, is largely based on the doctrine of stare decisis (Latin for “to stand by a decision”). Under this doctrine, judicial decisions are recognized as law and are enforceable by lower courts.
Courts are typically made up of a panel of three judges, but in some cases they can expand to a full bench, called an en banc.
The judicial process includes hearings and trials by juries, as well as appeals from these verdicts or orders. The process of determining a jury’s verdict can involve examining evidence, preparing a witness statement and other actions.
Lawyers are professionals who represent clients in a variety of legal matters, usually involving disputes between private parties. They may be employed by the public, private or non-profit sectors. The profession of law is overseen by a government or independent regulating body such as a bar association, bar council or law society.
Professional identity in the legal profession is achieved through specified legal procedures, such as obtaining special qualifications and becoming admitted to the bar. Most lawyers have a legal education, which leads to the qualification of a bachelor’s degree in law, or a master’s and doctorate degrees in law.
The study of law is a complex discipline, with a number of branches and sub-branches. Some of the most prominent are: