The Study of Law

Law is a system of rules and principles that governs the conduct of people and groups. It is the basis for society’s order and security. It can be created and enforced by a group legislature, as in statutes; by the executive, as in decrees and regulations; or by judges, as in case law (although the precise definition of law is disputed). Law can also govern private activity through contracts, such as those between employers and workers.

Law can be defined in many different ways, from broad concepts such as “rights and wrongs” to the specific rules of a particular area. The study of Law can be divided into a variety of disciplines, from constitutional and administrative law to international law and labour law. The study of law can also be seen as a part of larger social and political issues, such as the relationship between the state and its citizens, or the nature of power and how it is exercised.

Some legal systems are more just than others, allowing people of all social classes to achieve a degree of equality in their treatment by the state. Others, such as those of autocratic nations, may oppress minorities or control the pace of social change.

An important aspect of law is the way it evolves over time. For example, the Code of Hammurabi reorganized ancient Babylonian laws, making them more easily understandable to the common citizen. The evolution of the law is closely connected to the development of human civilizations, and it has been shaped by both societal changes and by the interactions between societies and cultures.

One major distinction is between civil and common law. While both legal systems share some foundational ideas, the basic processes and reasoning of the two are quite distinct. The common law was institutionalized in England by Henry II, who elevated local custom to the national level and ended arbitrary remedies. He also reinstated the jury system—citizens sworn on oath to investigate reliable criminal accusations and civil claims. This led to the enactment of procedural laws, such as those governing how courts handle lawsuits and trials.

The complexity of law is further compounded by the fact that not all legal decisions are binding in all jurisdictions. Decisions by higher courts carry more weight than those of lower ones. As a result, it can take a substantial amount of research and analysis to determine “what the law is” in any given situation. This work involves ascertaining the facts, finding relevant cases and statutes, extracting principles and analogies, examining statements made by higher court judges and deciphering jargon. Moreover, there is considerable overlap in the areas of law covered by a single jurisdiction and between common, constitutional and statutory laws.