What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules that is created and enforced by social or government institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, with scholars describing it as both an art and a science. It is generally seen as an instrument of justice, with its principal functions being to ensure fairness and order in society and to provide a framework for resolving disputes between individuals or groups. It also shapes politics, economics and history and serves as a mediator of relations between people.

There are many different types of law, covering a wide range of subjects and issues. Some examples are criminal law, which deals with offences against public order; family law, which covers marriage and divorce proceedings, child custody rights and rights to property; labour law, which includes worker’s compensation, maternity leave and workplace safety; and tort law, which governs the liability of parties in civil litigation. Other areas of law include immigration law, which concerns the right of foreigners to live and work in a nation-state that is not their own; constitutional law, which defines the basic structure of a nation-state; international law, which deals with the relationship between nation-states; and private law, which deals with personal matters such as contracts, torts and inheritance.

While the nature of law is broadly defined, there are some specific areas of legal practice that require a special skill set to be mastered by practitioners. For example, a lawyer practicing commercial law must be proficient in the laws surrounding intellectual property, which involves the ownership of ideas, such as inventions and literary works. Laws concerning business and money are known as corporate or commercial law, while laws dealing with the family, social security, property, and religion are often called family or civil law.

A key issue in the study of law is how objective it can be. Some scholars have argued that the goal of objectivity is not achievable, particularly when it comes to the area of judicial decision-making. They point out that judges are human beings, and the fact that judges are not always objective when they decide cases makes it difficult to predict how a judge’s ruling will be received.

Other issues in the study of law relate to the ways in which legal systems develop, and how they are influenced by social and cultural factors. This is referred to as comparative law and is studied by lawyers, sociologists and economists.