What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules that a society develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. There are many different branches of law: criminal, administrative, family, civil, intellectual property, contract, employment and regulatory. Law is also a subject of scholarly inquiry: legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.

In the modern world, governments use the law to achieve a number of purposes: keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, preserving individual rights and regulating social change. Different nations have developed different legal systems in order to achieve these goals. Some systems are more successful than others at accomplishing these tasks: for example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but it will often oppress minorities or political opponents. The success of a legal system also depends on how well the system is enforced and administered.

The world’s different systems of law can be broadly divided into two groups: those that are explicitly based on religious precepts (e.g., Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia) and those based on human elaboration. The latter are based on the teachings of a particular religion, which acts as a starting point for creating a body of rules, and on precedent, ijtihad (reasoning by analogy), and qiyas (consensus) to elaborate upon the original precepts.

A third group of laws are those that regulate specific fields of activity. For example, contract law deals with agreements that people make to exchange goods or services; this covers everything from selling a car to trading options on a derivatives market. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, whether real estate such as land or personal possessions such as furniture; it distinguishes between a right in rem (a claim to a specific piece of property) and a right in personam (compensation for a loss or injury).

Other types of laws include competition, which is designed to prevent businesses from manipulating prices to their own advantage; consumer law, which regulates such things as unfair contracts, warranties and conditions; and environmental law. Laws dealing with international affairs can range from treaties between countries to the application of treaty provisions in war zones or natural disaster areas. Finally, there are a number of law firms and organizations that specialize in drafting laws or commenting on legislative changes. These tend to be more technical and may take a stand on controversial issues. In some fields, a law firm or organization will publish articles that critique new or proposed laws. These pieces typically contain footnotes and are written in the style of a scholarly paper. They are intended to reach a wider audience than judicial opinions, which are generally written only for the benefit of fellow practitioners. In the United States, these articles are published in a journal called The American Law Review. In other parts of the world, they are published in various journals and magazines. They can be found online at the websites of some law reviews and scholarly societies.