What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules created and enforced by a society to regulate conduct. It governs social relationships and activities in many ways, including enforcing contracts, setting standards for property, and punishing crime. It also serves as a mediator of relations between individuals and between states. Laws may be derived from a constitution, written or unwritten, and are often based on moral values. Laws can also serve other purposes, such as keeping the peace, maintaining a status quo, preserving individual rights, protecting minorities against majorities, and promoting social justice. Some governments are more effective than others at achieving these goals.

The law is composed of many different branches, ranging from contracts to aviation regulations to criminal prosecution. These branches reflect the diverse interests of people and businesses governed by legal systems around the world. For example, contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods or services; tort law compensates victims of wrongful harms; and property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible things such as cars, homes, clothing, books, and money. The law also regulates interactions between the state and its citizens, including civil rights, employment laws, and criminal laws, such as those imposing punishment for murder and other serious crimes.

There are also legal theories that argue for the incorporation of moral values into a country’s law. One such theory, developed by Max Weber in 1917, asserts that the structure and operation of a nation’s legal system depends on how it is understood to be a reflection of underlying moral values. Other legal theories such as those of utilitarianism, advocated by John Austin and Jeremy Bentham, emphasize the role that the law plays in creating a good life for all.

A law may be made by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by a single legislator, leading to executive decrees and regulations; or by judges through the precedent of court cases, especially in common-law jurisdictions. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts, such as arbitration agreements, that adopt alternative methods of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.

The term law can also refer to the practice of a profession that advocates for the enforcement of laws and specializes in advising clients about legal issues. The profession of law is generally regulated by a government or independent regulating body, such as the bar association or law society. Modern lawyers achieve distinct professional identity through specified procedures and by obtaining a particular academic degree (e.g., a Bachelor of Laws or a Juris Doctor). Other specialized fields of law exist for areas such as taxation, intellectual property, and international law.