What Is Law?

Law is the set of rules that govern a society and are enforced by the state through penalties. There are many books and debates on the topic, but a general description of law is that it sets the framework for the order of a society, establishing the rights of citizens and how those rights are to be protected and enforced. Some areas of law are more specific, such as property law (which covers ownership and possession of land and the things attached to it) or criminal law (which establishes offences and laws governing their legal procedures).

The purpose of a nation’s legal system is also debated, with some believing that it should be used to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice and provide for orderly social change. Certainly, some laws are used for these purposes more effectively than others. For example, an authoritarian regime might impose peace and preserve the status quo, but it would probably oppress minorities and discourage social change. On the other hand, a democratic republic might keep the peace but allow for social change.

Countries have different systems of law, which are often based on the nature of their political institutions and the way they deal with problems. Some countries, such as the United States, use a common law system where judges decide cases according to past rulings, resulting in a compilation of case law known as the “law of precedent”. Other nations have civil law systems, where judge decisions are predetermined by statute.

Private and public law are a major feature of legal systems, with subjects covered including contracts, torts, property and constitutional matters. International law concerns issues beyond the boundaries of a country, with the law of treaties, focusing on agreements between nations.

Other areas of law include labour and family law, which cover the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union, with issues such as job security and rights to strike. Consumer and competition law are also important, with the former involving regulations on unfair contractual terms and clauses or monopolies, while the latter draws on laws such as Roman decrees against price fixing or English restraint of trade statutes from the 19th century.

Lawyers are trained in a variety of subjects before being admitted to the legal profession. They achieve a distinct professional identity by passing specified legal procedures, such as a bar examination or course of study leading to the award of a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Law or a Juris Doctor degree, and are required to abide by certain ethical codes. They are usually regulated either by a government body or by an independent regulating body such as the law society. In this way they are guaranteed a level of professionalism which guarantees their ability to defend the interests of their clients. A lawyer’s duties are to act impartially and honestly, uphold the rule of law and protect the privacy of their clients.