Law is the system of rules that governs relationships between human beings. It serves four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Those who study laws and legal systems are called lawyers and judges. Law is also a career path that appeals to many young people because it offers prestige and financial security.
Law is a vast and complex subject that has been studied since antiquity. Many different cultures have developed law as a way of life and as a tool for governing society. The laws of one culture may differ from those of another, but there are some universal principles that all legal systems share.
The earliest laws were tribal customs and traditions that evolved in the context of a particular social organization. Later, as society became more complex and interdependent, the need for a common basis of understanding increased and laws were developed to facilitate cooperation. Modern legal systems are based on the concepts, categories, and rules of civil law traditions that have spread throughout the world. These traditions are influenced by Roman and canon law and, in many cases, supplemented or modified by local custom and culture.
Some systems of law are regulated by a central government and others operate under the principle of self-regulation, with local communities entrusting decisions about law to local officials. In any case, the fundamental purpose of a legal system is to maintain stability and protect individual freedoms.
In the United States, law is divided into criminal, civil, and administrative. Criminal law concerns statutes aimed at maintaining order in society and compensating individuals who have been physically or financially injured. Civil law involves disputes between parties that are not involving crimes or violations of state regulations. Administrative law deals with the promulgation and enforcement of regulations by government agencies.
A court of law is an institution that reviews legal decisions made by lower courts or tribunals. A person who appeals a decision from a lower court is known as an appellant. Appeals are usually brought on the grounds that the court misapplied or improperly applied a law, but they can be filed on other grounds as well.
A judge or jury decides a dispute between two or more parties in a lawsuit. Jury deliberations are usually private and held out of earshot of spectators and the media. A trial transcript contains written notes that record the judge’s comments and the jury’s discussion of issues during a trial.
A felony is a crime that carries a penalty of more than one year in prison. A defendant’s first appearance in a trial is called an arraignment, during which the defendant is told about the charges against him and asked to enter a plea. A lawyer is a person who practices law, which is the profession of advising clients about legal matters or representing them in court. A writ is a legal document that is issued by the court to compel someone to appear before it.