What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules, usually made by a government, that people must follow or face punishment. Those who do not obey the laws can be arrested and jailed, or can have their assets frozen, as punishment for breaking those rules. Law can also be used to describe the practice of law, which is a career that requires an extensive education and training, including studying for a bar exam.

The main purpose of laws is to keep a society safe and orderly. When people do not agree, conflicts arise, and laws are there to resolve those disagreements peacefully. For example, if two people claim ownership of the same piece of property, they can turn to the courts for help and the court will decide who is the rightful owner. Laws are also there to protect people’s rights and freedoms. For example, the constitution of Canada guarantees citizens certain basic freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, and due process.

A person who studies law can pursue a number of careers. They can work as a lawyer, judge, or public official, or they can go into academia and teach or research the law. In addition, many lawyers have private practices in which they advise clients on their legal rights and obligations.

Different schools of thought offer different definitions of law. Utilitarian thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham define law as “commands, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign to whom people have a habit of obedience.” Philosophers who believe in natural law argue that there are fundamental moral and unchanging laws of nature that are reflected in the laws of nature.

Other branches of law include contract law, which governs agreements to exchange goods or services, and property law, which defines people’s rights and duties toward their tangible possessions. Banking and financial law regulates banks and other financial institutions, while environmental law is concerned with the environment and regulating activities that pollute or otherwise damage the natural world.

In some countries, such as Japan, laws are a combination of legislative statutes and regulatory decisions made by judges. The latter have broader legal weight, and can be applied to future cases, a principle known as the doctrine of precedent or stare decisis. Judges and attorneys are human, however, and reasonable people will often disagree about what the law should be. Nonetheless, the law remains important to all societies.