Law is a set of rules that are enforced by social or government institutions to ensure the rights and safety of all members of society. These may be written and codified by a legislature, as in civil law jurisdictions, or established through precedent in common law countries (like the United States) where judges play a quasi-legislative role in formulating legal rules for future cases. There are also private laws that govern individuals and organizations, such as contracts, property, and torts.
In addition to providing a mechanism for the peaceful resolution of conflicts between individuals and groups, laws can be used to protect and enhance the environment, provide for health care, and ensure fair treatment in employment. They can also regulate financial institutions and impose taxes. Laws can be found in a wide range of fields, including space law, intellectual property, and medical jurisprudence.
A variety of philosophical approaches have been taken to the nature of law. Most of these views have depended upon, and occasionally contributed to, answers to some of the most basic questions regarding the foundations of morality, justice, and human rights. They have also involved considerations of the justification of political rule.
Some legal systems are explicitly based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakhah and Islamic Shari’ah. Others are based on historical or anthropological research into patterns of human activity, such as the law merchant and canon law. Most legal systems, however, are a combination of both types of law.
While many people believe that the purpose of the law is to maintain order and protect individual rights, others see it as a tool for economic control or a means of imposing one’s beliefs on everyone else. The concept of law is a complex issue, and the debate over its role in modern society continues to be fought in courts, parliaments, and academic journals around the world.
The study of the law is often divided into several broad areas, including public and private law; natural law; legal philosophy; and legal theory. The latter is usually referred to as jurisprudence, the discipline that examines the principles and concepts of law in their varied forms. Those who practice law are usually known as attorneys, with the title Esquire or barrister to denote the degree of their training and professionalism. The legal profession is usually seen as a respectable career, with many people pursuing law degrees in the hopes of becoming successful lawyers. In some jurisdictions, the title of Doctor of Law is reserved for those who have earned a PhD in the field. In the US, the legal profession is further subdivided into different branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Each of these has its own specific roles in the administration of justice. In the US, the constitutional framework for government provides that no single person can gain ultimate power and stand above the law. This separation of powers is known as the rule of law. The UK has a similar structure, known as common law.