What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules created and enforced by a government or other authority to regulate behavior, establish responsibilities and protect rights. It also imposes a degree of order and consistency in society.

The purpose of law is to promote and protect human rights, maintain public safety, secure property, ensure fair and effective justice, and manage the relations between people. Laws are based on the principles that:

Historically, there have been two main types of law: civil and religious. Civil law systems are found in about 60 percent of the world’s population and are based on concepts, categories and rules developed in the Roman legal tradition and later codified under Theodosius II and Justinian I, along with custom and canon law. Religious laws, including Islamic Sharia law, continue to play a significant role in some communities.

Modern legal systems also include indigenous, common law and military law. Indigenous law is based on the traditions and customs of a nation, often combined with secular or governmental laws. Common law is a legal system that relies on precedent—judgments made in previous cases. Military law is used by the military, and in some countries it also governs civilian activities.

Many different fields of law exist, covering everything from terrorism to real estate transactions. Tax law is the practice of establishing taxes, such as corporate and value added tax. Banking law covers regulations that set standards for banks and financial institutions. Criminal law and administrative law deal with issues related to punishment and procedure. Commercial law relates to contract, commercial and company law.

While laws help to keep peace and preserve the status quo, they can also be employed for social change. For example, laws that make slavery and segregation illegal or protect the disabled from discrimination are examples of the law being used as a tool for change. But laws can also be harmful if they are not designed carefully and if they don’t address the root causes of problems, such as a war on drugs that turns drug addiction into a criminal issue.

There are several ways that individuals become lawyers, although they all must follow a rigorous educational and training process. In general, lawyers must complete a university degree (Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor), be admitted to the bar or other governing body and be legally qualified to practise. They are also required to adhere to ethical guidelines. Lawyers may be regulated by either a government or an independent regulating body. A lawyer’s work environment is typically in a law firm or the legal department of a corporation. They may also work as private counsel for individuals or organizations. Some may even set up their own practice. Lawyers enjoy a higher salary than most other professions and are typically afforded office space, expense accounts and decorating budgets. They also have the privilege of working from home if they choose. However, there are some disadvantages to working as a lawyer, especially for women.