What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules that governs the behavior of a community. It is enforced by a controlling authority, often through penalties. The legal system also serves many other social purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Some laws are imposed by the state; others are made by private groups or individuals. Law is an important part of human society, but it may be abused. For example, some governments use the law to oppress minorities or the opposition party.

People often define the word “law” to mean a set of rules that are recognized as right and wrong, or that apply to everyone equally. Laws can be written or unwritten, and they can cover almost any area of human activity. For example, some laws protect intellectual property, such as the right to copy music or writing. Other laws protect inventions, and still others help people get compensation if they have been injured or had their property stolen.

Different countries have different laws. The United States, for instance, uses a common law system, in which the laws are compiled from decisions of judges based on their experiences with specific cases. Other countries, such as Japan, have a civil law system in which the laws are specified in written codes that explicitly tell judges how to make their decisions.

Other areas of law include criminal law, which covers the punishment of crimes; administrative law, which deals with how government agencies operate; family law, which covers marriage and divorce proceedings; international law, which sets out the rules on how countries can act in world affairs; and labor law, which regulates wages and working conditions. Some areas of law have evolved as the result of technological or social change. For example, consumer law grew out of the U.S. anti-cartel and anti-monopoly legislation from the turn of the 20th century.

Law is an area of study that encompasses many other subjects. Some lawyers specialize in a particular area of the law, while others work in different fields but have an interest in law as a general topic. To be a lawyer, one must go through specified procedures to become licensed. Other professions that deal with the law are judges, legislators, and administrators. See article on judicial system for more information.