Law is the system of rules that a society recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. It includes the legal rights and responsibilities of citizens, as well as the structure of government and the power to enforce those rights and responsibilities. Law is a broad subject that spans many fields of study, including contract law, constitutional law, criminal law, family law, labor law and tax law. It is also the subject of much scholarly inquiry and debate in fields such as philosophy, sociology and economic analysis.
A central role of law is to prevent conflict and promote order. For example, if two people claim ownership of the same piece of land, rather than fight they turn to the law, which settles the dispute peacefully. Laws also help people to live together in peace, by ensuring that governments and public officials behave properly and are not unfair to their citizens.
Another important function of law is to serve as a tool for social change. It was laws that made slavery, segregation and apartheid illegal, for example. They are also the means by which people can claim a right to equality, whether in the workplace or in their personal lives. Laws that guarantee the safety of children, protect women’s rights and provide for the disabled are all examples of how law has shaped society.
Finally, law is an important source of income for a nation. The more prestigious the cases that lawyers win, the higher their fees. As a result, many people aspire to be lawyers.
The term ‘law’ is often used in a generic sense to refer to any set of rules that govern a particular society or group of people. But specific areas of law are usually defined by the type of activity they cover:
This encompasses civil and criminal litigation, arbitration and mediation. It also covers the rules and procedures for courts and tribunals. Contract law is the study of agreements between individuals and businesses, while property law defines a person’s rights and duties toward tangible property, such as land and buildings, or intangible assets such as stocks and shares. Public law deals with the way a state or local community regulates its services and utilities, such as water, electricity and transport. It is also the field of law that examines how a government should carry out its functions, such as how the police should treat citizens and how an individual should be treated in court. Other fields of law include evidence law, which defines which materials can be used in a trial, and constitutional law, which concerns the principles by which courts should interpret statutes and other laws.