The Basics of Law

Law is the system of rules a society or community recognizes as regulating its members’ behavior. It covers a broad range of subjects, including contracts, property, criminal, and administrative law. Law also encompasses the professions of advising people about the law, representing them in court cases, and giving decisions or punishments.

The purpose of law is generally to achieve social justice and to provide orderly change. The way that a nation’s laws achieve these goals is often an important indicator of its political system. In authoritarian nations, for example, the law may serve to keep the peace and maintain the status quo at the expense of minorities or political opponents. In a democracy, the law is usually intended to ensure the rights of all citizens.

A law is a set of rules or principles created by man that defines rights and obligations in the relationships among people, their possessions, and their activities. It can be derived from religion or morality, or it can be made up by the government and enforced by courts. Laws are created and enforced through a process called legislative or constitutional authority. In addition, they are the foundation for many of our most important institutions.

Some laws are based on natural processes, such as the law of gravity or the principle that heat and pressure always produce a gas’s maximum volume. Other laws, such as Boyle’s law, describe invariable relationships among phenomena under certain conditions. These laws are not universal but only approximately true.

Most legal systems are governed by one or more national constitutions, statutes, and precedents that define and limit the powers of a state. While a constitution or other document may establish the general principles of a country’s law, the details and interpretation of these laws are often left to local governments or individual jurists. Because of this, laws vary from country to country.

The law is a complex subject, and there are numerous fields of study that address particular aspects of it. Contract law, for example, regulates agreements between people in exchange for goods or services. Property law defines a person’s rights and duties toward tangible things (such as buildings or land) and intangible things (such as bank accounts or shares of stock).

Many fields of study analyze the relationship between a nation’s law and its political structures. See constitution; ideology; and political party for more information on these topics. Articles on the role of law in the society in which it exists include censorship; crime and punishment; and justice. For articles on the law and social change, see social justice and reform.