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What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that regulates the behavior of people or organizations – whether they are private individuals, corporations, or government agencies. The precise definition of “law” is a matter of ongoing debate, but it generally refers to the body of norms and standards that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to govern particular situations.

Essentially, the laws of a society govern its citizens, regulate its relationships and transactions, and define its responsibilities and obligations. They can also serve as a mediator between people. For example, the court system settles disputes between parties by interpreting and applying the laws of the land. Many countries use a civil law system, in which the courts build on previous decisions to make their rulings. In the United States, however, most legal disputes are resolved using a common law system, in which judges’ decisions are compiled into a casebook of precedent.

Different societies develop various legal systems for a variety of reasons. Some systems are used to enforce religious beliefs, while others serve social justice, maintain peace, and provide for orderly social change. For example, a nation’s laws can dictate how a citizen should behave, who is responsible for certain actions, and the penalties for violating those rules. A legal system can also determine how a dispute should be settled and who is competent to adjudicate a given situation.

The law is a vast subject that covers everything from marriage and divorce proceedings to property and money matters to the rights of immigrants and the rules of war. The subjects that fall under the umbrella of law are divided into three categories for convenience, though they intertwine and overlap:

Civil Law

This category encompasses the rights of individuals, from the right to sue for damages after an accident to the right to privacy in public places. It also includes the rules of inheritance and the legal procedures for acquiring or losing citizenship.

Criminal Law

The area of law that deals with punishment for violations of the state’s moral and ethical codes. The crimes include theft, murder, treason, and larceny. The penalties for committing these crimes range from fines to imprisonment.

The field of law is constantly evolving. For example, the Internet has brought with it a proliferation of information about the law. While in the 1980s, statutes and regulations were published in paper format and agency interpretations were closely held secrets, today, the law is almost always available on the Internet. In addition, most formal written guidance no longer needs to be submitted as a formal FOIA request and can be found through the agency’s website. In some cases, the information is even published in an online database that can be searched by keyword. This has greatly reduced the amount of work that lawyers have to do when drafting documents and researching for cases. As a result, lawyers can spend more time on their actual client matters. This, in turn, helps ensure that the legal profession remains a valued asset to our society.