Law is a body of rules established and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behaviour. It imposes duties and rights and provides a forum for dispute resolution. It is the source of a wide range of scholarly inquiry including legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. The four principal functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The precise nature of laws varies greatly from nation to nation. In a society with a stable government, the laws may be codified in a constitution or statutes and enforced by courts. The courts may also adjudicate on issues that have not been formally enacted into legislation. The law of a country may be based on the decisions of one or more judges, or on precedent set by other courts.
Throughout the world, laws are established by people who have political power. People with military or other force often have the means to overthrow existing political-legal authority, and revolutions are a common feature of some nations. A nation’s laws are a reflection of its culture and politics, as well as its history and social development.
The law can be classified as civil or criminal. Civil law deals with the resolution of lawsuits (disputes) between individuals and organisations. The sources of civil law are legislative (statutes and constitutions) and, more recently, case law. The former can be codified into codes and is easy to transport, while the latter allows room for judges to interpret and adapt the rules to new social needs.
In criminal law, the legal system is concerned with punishing behaviour that threatens public safety or morality. The law can be divided into different branches depending on the subject matter of the crime. For example, contract law is concerned with agreements between two or more parties, while tort law deals with a person’s legal right to compensation for harm suffered.
Other types of laws include constitutional law, administrative law and international law. The law is also a source of debate in the fields of ethics and morality.
Lawyers are professionals who advise their clients on legal matters and represent them in court. A career in the law can be challenging, but it offers many rewards. The study of law can lead to jobs in government, corporations and private practice. Some lawyers specialise in particular areas of the law, while others practice general commercial law. In the United States, a compilation of most public laws in force is called the United States Code, and it is collated by subject matter into 50 titles. The law is continually amended, and the U.S. Code deletes language that has been repealed or superseded by later legislation. It is often published in hard and soft copy form, and there are several online versions available. In the UK, a similar publication is The Statutes of England and Wales. In some countries, a statute is published in its current version and may be accessed through a law library.