The Study of Law

Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is the subject of longstanding debate, with different theories addressing issues such as the extent to which law is coercive. The study of law includes the field of legal philosophy, as well as the practice of law and its history.

In its broadest sense, law refers to any rule of action imposed by a superior on his inferiors, whether that be an order backed by force or an unwritten principle enshrined in the customs of a particular country. This general meaning of the term can lead to an ambiguity that is at the root of much of the confusion surrounding law in our modern world.

The law may be created by group legislatures or individual legislators, resulting in statutes; enacted by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, as is the case in common law jurisdictions. The lawmaking process itself involves a number of competing interests and pressures. Individual legislators may be influenced by a range of political and economic ideologies, while lawyers and jurists have their own inclinations and biases. The process of lawmaking is often tumultuous and messy, with conflicting tugs of war between the social demands and ethical values of various factions.

Other definitions of law have focused on the role of power in determining law. For example, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian definition of law argues that law is an aggregate set of commands, backed by threats of sanctions from a sovereign to whom people have a habit of obedience. The natural school of thought, advocated by philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argues that laws should reflect a basic morality that is universally applicable to all human beings.

The practice of law, which encompasses all judicial and legislative activities relating to the law, is also a highly contested area of study. The many different fields within law include constitutional law, criminal law, international law, property law and family law. It also includes corporate law, which relates to business and money, and environmental law. The study of law is widely considered to be important to the development and progress of society, and a career in law is increasingly attractive to young people. For example, in the United States alone there are currently over 300,000 attorneys and over 8,000 judges. As the demand for lawyers continues to increase, so too will the competition for law school positions. In turn, this will likely lead to a more diverse and vibrant legal profession. This is a positive trend, which will only serve to further strengthen and protect our democracy.