Law is a system of rules, guidelines, and principles enforced by a sovereign or governing body to govern behavior, maintain order, and ensure justice. A society ruled by law promotes cooperation between individuals and groups of people. Laws may be based on custom and tradition, or they can be codified and applied by judicial decision. Regardless of their source, laws must be clear and concise to prevent confusion. They must also allow room for interpretation and creative jurisprudence to adapt to social change.
Some laws are explicitly based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia. Others are based on natural processes and principles, such as the law of gravity or the law of supply and demand. Many religions also incorporate legal concepts and principles into their teachings, such as the Biblical commands to obey the laws of God or the Christian concept of morality.
A large part of the practice of law involves the resolution of disputes between individual citizens, families, and organizations. Civil law jurisdictions are found on all continents and cover about 60% of the world’s population. In a civil law system, the laws of the land are established by a centralized code influenced by Roman law and canon law, supplemented or modified by local custom and culture. These systems often provide a more stable and dependable framework for commercial transactions than common law jurisdictions.
Criminal law is a more complex subject, as it encompasses the punishment of conduct that threatens social order or undermines public safety and security. These issues have historically been more controversial than commercial or civil law issues, and they are a major subject of debate in politics and the media.
The law provides a source of scholarly inquiry and study, including philosophical questions of justice, equality, and fairness. The study of law also raises issues concerning the nature and extent of government power, the role of money in society, and the relationship between the state and other social entities.
The practice of law also includes specialized areas of practice, such as family, criminal, property, and corporate or business law. International law addresses international treaties and agreements, while space law is a newer field dealing with the laws of outer space. Other areas of practice include tax law, which deals with regulations that concern value added tax and corporate taxation; banking and financial regulation; and securities laws, which establishes standards for capital requirements, disclosure, best practices, and the licensing of investment advisors. The practice of law also encompasses areas of dispute resolution, such as arbitration and mediation.