What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules that regulate conduct and behaviour in society, with penalties put in place for people who break them. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways and is an essential part of the social infrastructure of countries around the world.

It is difficult to give a definitive definition of law as different legal systems differ and individuals have different views on what constitutes a law. However, a common theme to emerge from the many books containing numerous different ideas and definitions of law is that it is a set of rules created by the state that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society.

Law can be enforced by the state through a variety of mechanisms, including courts, police and a system of punishments. It is also used to define the rights of citizens and establishes a framework for the relationship between the government and its people.

The creation of laws is governed by a constitution, a written document setting out the fundamental principles that govern the nation, and statutes (laws passed by parliament or other legislative bodies), which provide details on how to implement that constitution. Laws are also influenced by the principles that have evolved over time through legal philosophy, namely natural law and utilitarianism.

A large number of different branches of law exist, governing everything from relationships and employment to property ownership and the treatment of animals. Contract law, for example, defines a person’s rights and obligations when they enter into agreements of any kind, whether it be buying a bus ticket or trading options on the derivatives market; while property law identifies a person’s rights and duties in relation to their land and buildings (i.e. real estate) and other possessions (i.e. personal property).

The practice of law is a highly specialised field and requires extensive academic study. A modern lawyer acquires a distinct professional identity through specified legal procedures (such as successfully passing a bar exam) and obtaining a recognised qualification (such as a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Laws or a Juris Doctor degree). In some jurisdictions, lawyers are required to belong to a profession body in order to maintain their integrity. This is in addition to a requirement that they must possess a high level of academic achievement and have completed a legal apprenticeship. Laws are also influenced by social convention and custom, as well as being subject to change over time. This can be attributed to the fact that human beings are constantly learning and adapting. Nevertheless, attempts are made to keep the law as updated and relevant as possible. In addition, a problem with law is that it often places undue emphasis on formality and procedure, which can delay the dispensation of justice. This can be a problem in societies that are changing rapidly. This is particularly true in the case of developing economies.