What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The precise definition of law is a longstanding matter of debate, with some viewing it as an empirical science (such as the law of gravity) and others seeing it as a social science (such as the principle of natural justice).

The study of law is usually taught in a university or other educational institution. The training of a lawyer may be through a bachelor’s degree in the subject, or through a combination of education and practical experience. Depending on the field of law, an advanced degree may be required, such as a master of laws, a master of legal studies or a doctor of law. Modern lawyers achieve distinct professional identities through specified legal procedures, such as successfully passing a qualifying examination.

Unlike many sciences and disciplines, law has a normative nature. It defines how people ought to behave, and tells them what they cannot do or must do. This makes it distinct from both the empirical and the social sciences, and leads to unique challenges when studying it.

Some laws are explicitly based on religious precepts, including the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, as well as Christian canon law that persists in some church communities. These laws, while influenced by their religion, also evolve through human elaboration via interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.

The main functions of law include establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The former function is especially important in a democratic society, where laws govern the relationships between different individuals and groups within a state, and ensure that everyone is treated fairly. A law that is poorly designed or executed in this regard can lead to injustice, instability and oppression.

A nation’s law may also serve a number of other purposes, such as keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo and preserving the national identity. However, this can be problematic if the law is used by authoritarian governments to oppress minorities or political opponents, as happened under colonialism in Africa and Asia, for example.

The law is a complex system that requires expert scholarly study in order to understand it. The law is shaped by many different factors, including the culture of a country, its history and the broader global context. Moreover, the law is continuously evolving, and even highly specialised fields, such as space law, are changing rapidly. As a result, it is important for those interested in the law to keep up with the latest developments. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do this, such as attending lectures and seminars by renowned experts in the field, reading up on current legislation, and following the work of prominent lawyers on the internet. These sources provide a range of information on the law, from the latest legislative changes to analysis and critique of recent legal decisions. It is also possible to take part in legal discussions on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, and to join law societies or associations to remain up-to-date with the latest developments.