What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. It is a form of governance and a source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. The rule of law is a condition that ensures the supremacy of the legal system, equality in the application of the law and a fair and independent adjudication of disputes.

There are numerous areas of law, and each one can be broken down into many sub-fields. Some of the most common fields are contract law, criminal law and civil law. Contract law covers agreements that involve anything of value, from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Criminal law deals with the punishment of people for crimes that have been committed and civil law addresses lawsuits (disputes) between individuals or organizations.

The laws that govern these fields are largely established by legislative bodies through statutes, decrees and regulations, although judges can also create laws through precedent. The process by which these laws are created is known as legal reasoning, and is an important aspect of the legal profession. Legal arguments are based on the rules of the law and are used to persuade courts that certain actions are justified or not justified. The practice of legal reasoning is a crucial part of the legal system, and its evolution over time has been an important area for scholarly research.

There are some areas of law that are particularly complex from a methodological point of view, including space law, which is concerned with the interaction between Earth and outer space and involves issues such as space commercialisation; and banking and financial regulation, which sets minimum standards for the amounts banks must hold as capital and rules on best practices in investing. Law has the peculiarity that its normative statements are not subject to empirical verification, unlike scientific (empirical) laws such as the law of gravity or social science laws such as the law of supply and demand.

The law is a key social institution and the basis of society’s morality, but it is also a major source of conflict and division. For example, laws involving personal freedoms are frequently debated, as they may affect personal autonomy. Equally, the enlargement of state power in modern societies has raised serious questions of accountability that were not considered by authors such as Locke and Montesquieu. The modern military, armed forces and bureaucracy are all powerful players in the daily lives of ordinary citizens, raising new issues of how these bodies should be held to account. The study of law is therefore a vital and ongoing field of research. It also provides a career path that is increasingly attractive to young people. Legal careers include the practice of law, teaching, advising, writing, publishing and administration. Other related disciplines are public policy and ethics. The terms esquire and barrister are both titles of respect for members of the legal profession.