Law is the set of rules that a community or group establishes through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior and enforce adherence through sanctions. It is an area of study that encompasses many societal and philosophical issues such as social justice, equality, fairness and the rule of law.
Legal systems vary between countries and over time. Some have a system of laws that derives from statutes passed by the legislature, while others such as the United States have a common law system that relies on court decisions compiled into case law. There are also systems that have both types of law, where some are derived from statutes and other laws are derived from judicial decisions or custom.
The rule of law is a concept that a society may adopt to govern itself and assure the rights of all its members. It is a set of principles that includes accountability, the separation of powers, open government and accessible and impartial justice. It is an idea that dates back to ancient scholars and remains a core principle in most of the world’s major legal traditions.
There are several facets to law that can be divided into three broad categories: criminal, civil and administrative law. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to the social order, and it can lead to sanctions such as imprisonment or fines. Civil law deals with disagreements between individuals or entities and can lead to the resolution of lawsuits.
Administrative law deals with public services and utilities, such as water, energy and telecommunications. It is a source of scholarly inquiry into areas such as economic analysis and sociology, but it can also raise issues of fairness and justice.
The field of law encompasses a vast array of careers and academic disciplines, including jurisprudence (the study of the legal system), public administration, political science, history, philosophy and economics. Many students and academics specialize in a particular area of law or a subset thereof, such as labor law, property law or environmental law. Those who practice law are called lawyers and must be licensed to do so by a governing body or independent regulating authority. Lawyers must pass a bar examination, have an approved legal education (often a Bachelor of Laws or a Bachelor of Civil Law degree) and are regulated by professional codes of ethics and practice. Many law schools offer courses on the philosophy of law and ethics to prepare students for the practice of law. They must also follow a code of professional conduct that is enforceable by a bar disciplinary authority. The practice of law is an important part of our democratic societies and is vital for the preservation of individual rights and freedoms. We need to understand and promote the principles that underpin it so that it can flourish in our lives.