Law is the system of rules that a particular society, culture or community recognises as regulating its members. It is enforced by a controlling authority, often through penalties. The study of law encompasses a wide range of topics, from the most basic laws about property and contracts to more complex legislation concerning criminal procedure and the human rights of individuals. The study of law has evolved throughout history and contains elements that are very ancient (such as the 800 year old courts known as coroners’ court) alongside those that are very modern (such as electronic law reports or judges using laptop computers).
The law varies between countries, with some nations employing a common law system where decisions made by a judge in a case form the basis of legal interpretation, whilst others follow a civil or civil law system, with statutes and judicial decisions written out as legal guides for future cases. The most fundamental law is a constitution, which sets out the important rights and role of government in a country. It also establishes a framework for the separation of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of a nation’s government.
Other areas of law include commercial, labour and tort laws. Commercial laws such as property law and contract law regulate how businesses are run, and the rights of people to buy and sell goods and services. Labour law covers a tripartite relationship between employer, employee and trade unions, relating to the right to work, pay and health and safety regulations. Tort laws cover injuries and damage caused to people or their property, such as road accidents, false imprisonment and defamation. All these areas are overseen by judges in a judiciary.
The main purpose of law is to promote social justice, preserve individual rights and liberties, maintain order and provide a mechanism for ordered social change. Some legal systems are more effective in achieving these goals than others. For example, a dictatorial regime may keep the peace and maintain stability, but might oppress minorities or its political opponents. Conversely, a democratic government might create a sense of security for its citizens and foster economic growth.
A professional who studies and advocates the law is called a lawyer, barrister or attorney. They are trained in a specific area of law, such as property or corporate law, and they have a high degree of expertise in their field. In the United States, there are two kinds of lawyers – transactional attorneys who write contracts, and litigators who go to court. In the United Kingdom, they are called solicitors and barristers respectively. The law is a complex and evolving subject, with new areas of legislation being created all the time. This makes it important to have a good understanding of current and historical legislation, as well as the ability to apply that knowledge to analyse a problem or debate an issue. This knowledge can be gained through reading the latest news and commentary in newspapers, as well as in law journals and books.