Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been characterized as an art and as a science. There are four main purposes for law: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Law is a complex matter of social and cultural significance, and is therefore the subject of much philosophical speculation. It also serves as a basis for many practical activities, including criminal investigation, administrative regulation and dispute resolution.
Laws are typically formulated by political or governmental institutions, and are enforceable through penalties or sanctions. The precise nature of the legal system varies significantly between nations. Some countries, like the United States, employ a common law system that relies on judicial decisions to formulate laws. This is in contrast to the civil law systems used in many other countries, which are based on detailed codes of legislation and a combination of case law and tradition.
Legal systems also vary greatly in terms of the nature of their ruling class. In some societies, the power to make and enforce laws is vested in elected officials; in others, it is concentrated in the hands of a small elite. In either type of system, a lawmaker’s motivation for making laws may be shaped by the need to maintain stability and economic development or by the desire to promote the well-being of society in some other way.
A variety of theories about the nature of law have been advanced, most notably by Plato in his dialogue Crito. His concept of nomos (custom or practice that is regarded as binding) evolved over the centuries, with the meaning shifting from a general term to one that specifically denotes a proclaimed or written law.
Modern lawyers are specially trained to argue on behalf of their clients in courts and other public forums. They are generally overseen by a government agency or independent regulating body to ensure they have the appropriate professional qualifications. They are usually required to pass a rigorous examination and must complete a formal legal education. This education often involves a bachelor of law degree or other equivalent qualification. Lawyers are sometimes known as advocates, barristers, solicitors, or doctors of law.
It is difficult to verify whether a law embodies precepts of such-and-such import because the substance of any law is not measurable or objective. As a consequence, there is no simple way to determine whether a law is sound or unsound, although there are several criteria that might be useful in assessing the quality of a law. A good law is likely to reflect the physical limitations of the human world, and so must not mandate behaviours that are impossible in the real world. In addition, a good law is likely to be free from bias and discrimination, and promote social justice.