What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is an area of study that has influenced politics, economics and history, and also raises profound issues concerning equality and justice. It is not a science in the sense that it does not have the methods of empirical and objective scientific inquiry (such as those of biology, physics or chemistry). Instead, law has normative elements, suggesting how people ought to behave, and prescriptive elements, indicating what they may or may not require from others or from themselves. This makes it a unique subject among the sciences and humanities.

The field of law encompasses a broad range of practices and areas of study, with the broadest definition including all activities that are regulated by government or private authority. The specific legal fields within the discipline of law include criminal, civil, constitutional and family, employment, property and tax. It includes the practice of advising individuals about their rights and obligations, representing them in court, and the drafting and enforcement of laws, as well as the legal systems that are in place to adjudicate disputes and settle lawsuits.

There are many different types of laws, and they vary depending on the jurisdiction in which they are made and applied. There are “civil law” jurisdictions, in which legislative statutes have equal status with judicial decisions, and there are “common law” countries, in which the decisions of lower courts are binding on higher ones, and the “doctrine of stare decisis” holds that previous court rulings must be followed unless they are overturned by newer or more compelling evidence. Some countries that were once colonized by continental European nations have retained elements of their civil law traditions, and these systems coexist with common law ones in some parts of the world.

Other types of law include administrative, environmental and space law. Administrative law deals with regulations that address a wide range of subjects, including the management and provision of utilities such as water, energy and telecommunications. Environmental law addresses the interaction between human activity and the natural environment, and space law is a relatively new field dealing with the laws of both Earth orbit and outer space.

The practice of law has evolved throughout the centuries. In ancient Rome, detailed codes were compiled for guidance by professional jurists. Later, in the Middle Ages, the concepts of Roman law were adapted to cope with changing societies and merged with local custom and case law to develop the English common law. In modern times, new fields of law have developed, such as international law and cyberlaw. In addition, the law has become increasingly complex from a methodological standpoint, as it is now frequently a source of scholarly inquiry in subjects such as legal history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. This has been accelerated by the increasing number of legal professionals working in business and other industries, and by the rise of globalization.