Law is a system of rules that governs the activities and relations of people, communities, organizations or groups. Law may be created and enforced by government agencies or individuals, and may be based on constitutions, statutes, ordinances, treaties and regulations or case law. The practice of law encompasses a wide range of legal activities, including advising clients, researching and analysing cases, negotiating agreements and writing judicial decisions. In addition, the study of law involves a broad range of scholarly activity including history, philosophy, political science and economic analysis.
A key feature of law is that it is normative, meaning it sets out precepts for what a society or individual should do, rather than merely describing how things currently are. This makes law different from empirical or social sciences, which can be verified by experiment. It is also quite distinct from theology and religion, which rely on belief systems that cannot be proven by empirical means.
The principal functions of law are to preserve order, provide security and stability, protect individuals and groups, ensure the rights of minority groups against majorities, promote social justice, and encourage orderly social change. However, there is a great deal of variation in the ways that nations and societies use their laws to achieve these goals. Some regimes, such as authoritarian ones, may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but may oppress minorities or other political opponents, while others, such as democratic republics, can promote social justice and allow peaceful and orderly political change.
Most countries have a constitutional system that defines the power of the legislature and executive and the rights of citizens. Some have a more traditional rule of law, with a supreme court and individual courts that are bound by precedent in their decisions (the “doctrine of stare decisis”). The system of law varies greatly from country to country.
A large part of the law covers the interactions between private parties and the responsibilities and rights they have to each other. For example, labour law focuses on the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union, while criminal and civil procedure focus on the way that cases are brought to and resolved in courts. Other areas of law include property, intellectual and copyright, the environment and family and child law. To practice law, lawyers are required to pass a qualifying examination and have a professional degree (such as a Bachelor of Laws or a Master of Legal Studies) from a university. This is overseen by an independent regulating body, such as a bar association or law council. Some jurisdictions have further requirements, such as a minimum period of practical experience before a lawyer can be admitted to the profession.