What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules created by the state that people must obey or face punishment. It shapes politics, economics and history, among other things. A law can be a rule that forbids murder, for example. It can also be a set of rules that govern a particular field, such as employment law, family law or tax law. The word is also used to describe the profession of lawyer or judge, as well as the study of laws and how they work.

The first known use of the word is from before 1000 AD. Its meaning is unclear, but it may be derived from the Old Norse word lag, meaning “setting an order.” The term was most often applied to written laws and the legal system, but it also has been used to refer to the practice of law as a whole. Roscoe Pound argued that law is “a means of social control” and that it serves society by (1) keeping the peace, (2) maintaining the status quo, (3) preserving rights, (4) protecting minorities against majorities, (5) fostering social justice, and (6) enabling orderly social change.

Most of the world’s governments have some form of legal system. Whether they are democratic, communist, socialist or monarchist, most governments recognize the need for laws to regulate the economy, protect citizens’ rights and ensure that power is not exercised unjustly.

A government’s power to create and enforce laws is based on its authority to do so, which comes from a written or tacit constitution. A country’s judicial system and societal values are also important factors in shaping the law.

Many laws are based on previous decisions in similar cases, a process known as stare decisis. These precedents, even if outdated or biased, continue to shape future rulings until societal changes prompt a judicial body to overturn them.

In addition to the laws of a given nation, there are often international laws that regulate commerce and other issues. For example, a company that does business in several countries must comply with the laws of those countries to avoid illegal activities like bribery and corruption.

There are also special fields of law that deal with specific issues. For instance, family law is the field of law that focuses on the relationships between children and their parents. Labor law deals with the tripartite relationship between worker, employer and trade union and relates to workplace safety, benefits and wage laws.

There are also different kinds of courts that have jurisdiction over different areas of the law. The most powerful of these is the Supreme Court, which has the power to hear and decide the highest-profile cases. There are also lower-level courts that handle a variety of issues. Some of these are civil, which deal with everyday disputes, and criminal, which handles serious crimes like murder or rape. Other types of courts include administrative, probate and bankruptcy courts.