What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created by government that forms a framework for maintaining order and resolving disputes in society. It can also be used to protect people’s liberties and rights. People who violate the law can be punished by state authority. The nature of the laws can vary widely between countries and cultures. Different schools of legal thought have different views about what the law should be, and there are many books that discuss the various concepts.

The varying views about what the law should be may help explain why there are so many different kinds of laws. For example, some schools of legal thought, such as natural-law theorists, stress that individuals have “natural” or “unalienable” rights that can’t be taken away by any government. This is consistent with the ideas of the Declaration of Independence and John Locke.

Other legal schools of thought emphasize the need for checks on power and ways to ensure that those in a position of authority treat people equally. This is consistent with the ideas of the French revolutionaries and with contemporary theories about democracy and social justice.

A person who is a lawyer studies the law and practices it in court cases on behalf of clients. There are several types of legal practice, including criminal, civil, and administrative. Criminal law deals with crimes against a person, property or public safety. Civil law covers lawsuits between two or more persons, such as contract law and tort law (those cases that involve damage or injury). Administrative law includes federal and state regulations and government contracts.

Different countries and regions of the world have different legal systems, with some following common law and others based on civil law or other traditions. For example, in the United States the law is based on a combination of English common law and European civil law. Civil law in other countries is generally based on a code developed in the nineteenth century by Germanic countries and later adopted by nations in Asia and Africa.

The underlying principle of most legal systems is that judges decide cases based on the facts of a case and previous decisions of their own courts and other courts in other jurisdictions. Judges look at the evidence, such as testimony and documents, and they make decisions based on what is fair to all parties. Courts in one state follow the decisions of other states in cases of first impression, assuming that the reasoning of the higher court is likely to be persuasive. This is known as the rule of stare decisis, and it helps to standardize the law and reduce confusion. It is also important for judges and lawyers to keep abreast of developments in the law as they occur. This helps them to be effective in interpreting and applying the law to new circumstances.