A Guide to the Study of Law

Law is a set of rules that imposes order in society and punishes those who break the laws. It also defines rights and responsibilities, guides social change, and is the foundation of political stability. Many nations have different legal systems and some are more stable than others. The most successful nations are those that can balance the principal goals of law: to keep the peace and maintain the status quo, respect individual rights and freedoms, promote social justice and provide for orderly political and economic change.

Some countries, such as the U.S., have a common law system that relies on judges to make laws from case decisions (called precedent). In other countries, such as Japan, the laws are written in code, so that judges must read statutes and previous decisions to determine how they should rule in a new case. Both types of legal systems serve their basic functions well, although the judicial process can be more complex in a common law country, and the law may appear less accessible to the public.

There are several facets to the study of law, which can be very technical and require special training or experience. For example, tax law involves the laws governing income and business transactions; employment law deals with issues such as discrimination and equal pay; constitutional law examines the legal boundaries of the federal, state and local governments; and criminal law defines penalties for breaking the law.

Other areas of the law are influenced by specific cultures or social issues. For example, Islamic and Jewish laws are based on religious precepts that must be followed. Those precepts have been interpreted through such processes as Qiyas, Ijma and jurisprudence, resulting in the detailed laws of the Muslim Sharia and the Jewish Halakha respectively.

The law is also shaped by the nature of the society that created it and by the people who make up that society. For example, a constitutional law in a democracy reflects the interests and values of its citizens. Other influences include the economics of a nation-state, as shown by its monetary system and banking policies; history, particularly in the form of wars or revolutions; and the influence of writers such as Max Weber who reshaped thinking about the extension of the power of the state.