What Is Law?

The law is the set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions that regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. Among the most commonly accepted features of the law are that it sets standards for acceptable conduct, protects people and property, establishes a recognizable order in society, and provides a mechanism for resolving conflicts. Law can be created and enforced by the state through statutes, decrees, or regulations; by individuals through contracts, including arbitration agreements; and by the courts through precedent.

The history of the development of law is closely related to that of human civilizations, and there are many variations in legal systems. For example, some types of law are based on religion and other beliefs, while others are based on historical events or written documents. For example, the Code of Hammurabi is an ancient Babylonian document that established a fixed system of criminal law and is regarded as the world’s first codified law.

A number of theories of law have been proposed, including utilitarian and natural laws. Utilitarian theory argues that the law is the result of a balance of competing interests, whereas natural lawyers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau argue that laws reflect unchanging, immutable principles of justice.

In practice, the development and application of law is a complicated process. To determine “what the law is” in a given case, judges must first ascertain the facts of the situation. They must then locate any relevant statutes and cases. They must also consider principles, analogies and statements by previous court decisions of what they considered important. More recent cases and those of higher courts generally have more weight than earlier ones.

There are also several different methods of interpreting and applying the law, including legal syllogism, which is common in civil law jurisdictions; and analogical reasoning, which is more prevalent in common law systems. Moreover, judges have a variety of arguments and canons of interpretation to help them apply the law to particular situations.

Lawyers are trained and regulated in various ways, depending on the country or jurisdiction in which they work. They typically receive a degree from a university or college, and may need to pass a bar examination to become licensed to practice law in their jurisdiction. Some lawyers specialize in certain fields of law, such as business or family law, while others are general practitioners. The practice of law is regulated by many governments and independent regulating bodies.