What Is Law?

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Law is the set of rules enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behaviour. It has many purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberty and rights. Laws can be created by a collective legislature, giving rise to statutes and other forms of legislation, by executive decree or regulation, or they may be established by judges through the decisions that they make in trials and appeals, resulting in case law. Private individuals can also create legal agreements and contracts that are legally binding, in which they agree to abide by the terms of a given statute or case law decision.

The study of law provides a rich source for scholarly inquiry, with topics ranging from the history of laws and constitutions to the development of legal doctrine and philosophy. Its complexity makes it different from other academic disciplines. For example, while normative statements in science (such as the law of gravity) can be tested by empirical experimentation, legal statements have a prescriptive nature. This gives legal theories a special kind of logical complexity that separates them from other types of theories in science, such as those based on natural phenomena or economic analysis.

Modern lawyers achieve distinct professional identity through specified legal procedures, such as completing a specific course of study and passing a qualifying examination. They must then be admitted to a professional body, such as a bar association or law society. Some lawyers also gain other titles of respect, such as Esquire for a barrister or Doctor of Law to indicate their higher legal education.

As a practice, law encompasses all areas of human activity and covers most aspects of life, including work, home and leisure. The subjects of law are usually presented in three broad categories for convenience, although they often overlap and interact. Labour law, for instance, is the study of the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union and includes matters such as health and safety regulations. Criminal and civil procedure is the study of what a citizen should expect from the courts as they are tried or appealed against, and involves issues such as a right to a fair trial. Evidence law is the study of which materials are admissible in a court to build a case.

Property law is the most complex of all areas of law and includes both real and personal property, such as a house or car, and intangibles such as intellectual property. Land law concerns ownership and possession, whether through a right in rem or a right in personam. It also contains regulations on mortgages, rental agreements and other forms of property security. Other fields of law include banking and financial regulation, insurance, taxation and competition law. Competition law, for instance, traces its roots back to Roman decrees against price fixing and the English restraint of trade doctrine. Taxation law, on the other hand, covers everything from VAT and corporate tax to bank capital requirements and rules on investment.