Law is the system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a subject of long-running debate. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people. Law may be established by a collective legislature in the form of statutes, or by the executive through decrees and regulations, or it may be created by judges through precedent, as is common in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements. In addition to its core functions, law is a source of complex theories about good and evil, empirical and social science or justice (proper distribution of goods/privileges and burdens in a society).
Law provides a mechanism to resolve disputes between people without resorting to violence. For example, if two people are fighting over a piece of land, the courts will decide who owns it. The law also protects people from discrimination and ensures that government officials and police behave properly.
The law is a central part of a nation’s political system, and its enforcement depends on the strength and stability of a government. In unstable nations, rebellions against existing political-legal authority are frequent. Each year, millions of people use the law to claim or protect their rights and freedoms.
Most law is developed through the judicial process, but laws can also be found in written constitutions, treaties and international conventions. Judges, lawyers and other legal professionals study the law to gain a deeper understanding of its principles and applications. In some countries, a bachelor’s degree in law is required for someone to become a lawyer. Other qualifications for becoming a lawyer include a master’s degree in law, which usually requires two years of study.
The main areas of law are civil and criminal law, which deal with different types of disputes. Civil law relates to the resolution of lawsuits (disputes) between individuals, while criminal law deals with offences against the state. Other areas of law include property, intellectual property and company law.
In civil law jurisdictions, a set of statutes clearly defines the cases that can be brought to court and the procedures for dealing with them. This type of codified system reduces biases in judicial decision making and makes it easier for citizens to understand the law and apply it correctly. However, the nature of law is such that there are always new needs and circumstances that require judicious interpretation and creative jurisprudence. A rich scholarly literature exists on the philosophy of law, as well as its anthropological, sociological and philosophical dimensions.