Law is the set of social or governmental rules that governs behavior. Law can be written down and enforced, or it can exist as a system of informal codes or customs. Law can serve a variety of functions, including keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, protecting individuals from oppressive majorities, and promoting social justice. Some systems of law serve these purposes more effectively than others. For example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but it may also suppress minorities or oppose change (e.g., Burma or Zimbabwe).
Legal studies are a broad academic field that encompasses many disciplines, including the history of legal concepts, jurisprudence, and law and society. The precise definition of law is a topic of ongoing debate. Some define it as the sum of all court decisions that have been made on a particular issue, while others see law more broadly as a framework for regulating human behavior.
The history of law stretches back millennia. In ancient Rome, a highly sophisticated body of law was developed that reflected the principles of Greek philosophy. The detailed rules of Roman law were compiled into codices and later adapted for use in other legal systems, such as the English common law.
In the modern world, laws are written and interpreted by judges, lawyers, and other professionals. Some of these professionals work within the legal system itself while others serve as consultants, professors, and other advisers to society.
There are many different types of law, and most of these can be divided into civil and criminal law. Civil law consists of laws that deal with disputes between private citizens, such as contracts, torts, and property rights. Criminal law, on the other hand, deals with offenses against a community as a whole, such as murder and robbery.
It is important to understand the different branches of law to be able to make informed decisions about legal issues. Civil law, for example, is a system of law that governs the vast majority of countries in the world. Its rules are based on Roman law, with some influence from canon law and local culture.
There are a number of terms that you should know when reading about the law, such as –