What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. A person who practices law is called a lawyer, jurist or attorney. People who study and write about laws are called law students or scholars.

Law serves several purposes, ranging from setting standards and maintaining order to resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The most fundamental purpose is to establish the rules that govern a community or nation. A legal system usually includes a legislature, executive and judicial branch. A nation is often divided into regions or states, which are governed by different systems of laws. The structure of government also influences the nature and purpose of laws.

For example, a democracy is a legal system that gives citizens the right to vote and make laws themselves. A dictatorship, by contrast, is a legal system that gives one individual absolute power to make and enforce laws. The framers of the United States Constitution recognized that even a democratic government may fail to serve its principal functions when it becomes too powerful, so they established a structure for government that limits the power of any individual to make or enforce laws.

A nation’s laws generally reflect its culture and history. A nation’s religion is often a major source of its laws, and many countries have religious books like the Bible or the Koran that are considered authoritative sources of law. Social habits and family heritage are also often important influences on laws, although they do not necessarily create legally binding regulations.

To determine the law in a particular case, researchers first need to gather the facts of the situation. Next, they must locate the applicable statutes and court decisions. Finally, they must understand the reasoning behind those rulings, and apply that understanding to the facts of the current case. In general, more recent decisions and those from higher courts are given greater weight than earlier rulings or those from lower courts.

The law changes over time as society evolves and new needs arise. Some of this change is driven by economic forces. Other change is driven by the needs of military operations, or by the need to protect certain groups from being unfairly discriminated against. Changing the law is usually not done through legislation, but by judicial rulings that are often published in lengthy written opinions known as cases.

The judicial process is often very slow and complicated, but it is an important part of any legal system. Judges are responsible for determining whether someone is guilty of a crime and if they should be punished, as well as resolving civil disputes. Judges must decide how to interpret the facts of a case and provide a rationale for their decision, which is often quite lengthy and contains policies and reasoning that will guide judges in future cases. Consequently, legal writing has become an art form in its own right.