Law is the set of rules that a community or country follows and enforces. It can be a written document or a collection of custom and policies recognized as binding by judicial decision. Law can be a source of conflict or it can serve to provide coherence, stability and protection. The study of law is a multi-disciplinary one and can be found in all areas of human activity.
Legal systems vary from nation to nation and the laws that govern them are shaped by culture, social history, economics and political power. The major legal traditions are civil and common law, but there are other models such as Islamic law.
The main function of law is to provide the foundation for a just society. It can be used to protect citizens, enforce contracts, regulate the economy, manage property and provide for a sense of security and justice. It also serves to guide human conduct and to prevent chaos, violence and injustice. The political landscape varies from nation to nation and it is not uncommon for law to be challenged by revolts or revolutions.
The practice of law involves advising people about legal issues, representing them in court or giving judgements and punishments. The profession is regulated by the state in most countries. There are several professional bodies that oversee the practice of law and some lawyers hold special titles to signify their status (Esquire for barristers, Doctor of Laws for academics who teach law).
In principle there is a difference between “law” and morality: the latter refers to a rule or convention sanctioned by conscience, concepts of natural justice or the will of a deity. But in practice, most of the law that exists in the world is positive and derives its force from legislative acts and judicial decisions.
A key question in law is how much influence judges should have over what the laws of a jurisdiction should be. This debate has many dimensions and, as with all debates it can become heated. For example, there is a current debate over whether or not judges should be allowed to have their own views about what is right and wrong when deciding cases.
The law is a huge subject and can be divided into three broad categories for convenience, although the subjects often intertwine and overlap. Labour law, for instance, is concerned with the tripartite industrial relationship between employee, employer and trade union and includes worker rights, maternity leave, health and safety regulation. Tax law covers issues such as value added tax and corporation tax. Banking law and financial regulation cover such things as capital requirements, monetary policy and best practice for investment. Environmental laws cover such issues as pollution, water conservation and habitat preservation.