What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that governs a variety of social activities, from dealing with criminal behavior to settling business agreements. The term can also refer to the people who work within this system. Some lawyers specialize in certain areas of the law, such as family or corporate law. The law also defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible (earthly) property, such as houses or cars, and intangible property, such as bank accounts or shares of stock. The law can cover a variety of topics, from health regulations to property taxes and immigration laws.

The purpose of law is to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. The legal system serves these purposes in different ways in different countries. For example, a country with an authoritarian government may keep the peace and preserve the status quo, but it may oppress minorities or political opponents. Other nations, such as the United States, allow a greater degree of freedom and democracy.

One way that the law sets standards is through the constitution, written or not, and the rights encoded in it. Another is through the judicial process, where judges interpret a statute or regulation and provide broader legal weight to that interpretation than the original statute. This principle is called stare decisis or case law.

In addition to constitutional law, national or state statutes and international treaties set a wide range of legal standards. Some of these statutes and treaties are enacted by the legislature, while others are created through the regulatory process or are self-executing. For example, a country’s civil aviation laws are largely aligned with the recommendations or mandatory standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The law can also be influenced by morals and values, or by the way in which people interact with each other. For example, a society may decide that it is against the law to make obscene or threatening phone calls. However, in some cases, the law cannot reflect morality. For example, it is against the law to donate money to a political party, but there are no laws against contributing to a non-political charity.

In some places, the law is based on religious precepts. This is primarily the case with Jewish halakha and Islamic Sharia, but it can also be found in Christian canon law. Many religious laws, though, rely on further human elaboration through interpretation (Qiyas and Ijma), reasoning by analogy, consensus and precedent in order to create comprehensive legal systems. This is the main reason why so many religions have their own courts and lawyers. It is also the reason why some of the laws are so different from country to country.