Law is the set of rules a country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. It is enforced by mechanisms created and controlled by the state and sanctions are imposed when it is broken. It can be difficult to define ‘law’ as legal systems differ and people have many different views about what it is.
Law studies the way a community regulates itself in areas such as property, employment and justice. The study of laws can also encompass political philosophy and theory, morals, history and religion. It can include the study of the laws that have been created, how they are used and their effect.
One of the most important aspects of law is how it is governed. Whether this is done through constitutional law, common law or statutory law, the processes that govern law are complex and involve a wide variety of factors.
The most important purpose of law is to provide a framework that helps a society to function smoothly. This includes keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, preserving individual rights, resolving conflicts and facilitating social change. Some legal systems serve this purpose more effectively than others. For example, a government ruled by an authoritarian dictator may keep the peace and maintain order, but it will often oppress minorities and prevent any sort of social change.
Other purposes of law are to promote economic growth, protect the environment and maintain the stability of a currency. There are even laws that regulate how countries can act with each other, such as trade agreements and the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war.
Legal scholars often argue about the nature of law. Some, such as the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, believe that law reflects an intrinsic sense of right and wrong. Others, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Austin, believe that law reflects the unchanging laws of nature. It can be difficult to apply the rigour of logic to these arguments as they are often complex and involve considerations such as how a judge feels about a certain topic or their personal prejudices.
The complexities of law are further highlighted by the fact that most areas of law are not well-defined. Statutory laws tend to be clearer than common law, but they still do not give a precise definition of what is or is not legal. When a new issue arises, it is necessary to locate precedent, extract statements of principle and reason by analogy in past decisions, and integrate the resulting lines of reasoning. This is known as constructing a case. A lawyer must then apply this case to the facts of a current situation. This requires a great deal of skill and a deep understanding of the legal system. It is not something that can be learned from a book or by attending a lecture. It must be honed through experience. This is the challenge that lawyers face every day.