What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules that a particular country or community recognises as regulating the actions of its members. Its precise definition is the subject of many books and debates, but it is generally seen as a set of state-enforced principles that form a framework for ensuring a peaceful society and that, when broken, can be enforced by mechanisms and sanctions imposed.

There are many different areas of law, with each having its own specialisations and applications. Contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods or services, ranging from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market; property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible assets such as houses and cars, as well as intangible items like bank accounts and shares of stock; and immigration and nationality law govern the right to live, work, and acquire citizenship in a nation-state.

The laws of a community are usually formulated by its governing body through a legislative process, resulting in statutes; or through the executive through decrees and regulations; or through the judiciary through legal precedent (common law jurisdictions). Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation. Laws can also impose social restrictions, including those on censorship and crime, as well as regulating activities such as sport and the media.

An area of law that is becoming increasingly important is the intersection between law and the biosciences, which involves legal interpretation of genetic data, genome-based drug development, medical testing, human embryonic stem cell research, genetic counselling, and other matters of public concern. The legal implications of these areas are complex and varied, and the emergence of new technologies raises many ethical questions that need to be addressed.

The field of law is highly diverse and ever-changing, with a range of career opportunities for those who study it. Those who specialise in litigation can become barristers, solicitors or judges, but there are also career opportunities in fields such as management, consultancy, and teaching. Some lawyers choose to become politicians or commentators on legal issues, and many others specialise in specific areas of law, such as employment law, products liability or family law.