What Is Law?

Law is a discipline and profession that deals with the customs, practices, and rules of a society that are recognized as binding on its members. These are enforced through a controlling authority, whether it is a government or other social institutions. It can be a complex topic, with many different opinions about its precise definition. Generally speaking, however, it is widely accepted that a law is a set of rules or guidelines for the conduct of human affairs that are created and enforced by societal institutions. Moreover, the strict application of laws often reflects a philosophy of order, fairness, and justice.

The term “law” is derived from the Old Norse word lag, which meant “lay a fixed tune or way of life.” Thus, a law may serve any of a number of purposes: it may keep order in a community, establish a standard of behavior that protects individual rights, preserve the status quo in a nation, encourage economic growth, and provide for the peaceful and orderly process of social change. These functions are largely political, and they vary from nation to nation. Tyrant regimes, for example, may use their power to promote peace and stability while oppressing minorities or political opponents (e.g., the Nazis murdered six million Jews, and Saddam Hussein routinely tortured Sunni Muslims in Iraq).

There are numerous areas of law, including criminal, family, administrative, civil, and commercial. Each of these fields is governed by a specific body of legislation or court rulings. Laws can be created by group legislatures, resulting in statutes; by the executive branch through decrees and regulations; or by judges, who build upon previous decisions to create legal precedent (a system called common law). Private individuals also may create their own legally binding contracts.

Regardless of the area of law, most legal practitioners rely on a multitude of resources to assist them in their practice. Many of these resources are published in law journals, which offer in-depth analysis and commentary on legal cases, arguments, and judicial reasoning.

In addition to providing valuable insights to legal professionals, law articles can be used as a means of public education about important legal issues. Articles discussing new or controversial changes to existing laws, for example, can help educate the public about the impact of these developments on their day-to-day lives.

Other types of law articles are designed to provide technical details about the field of law in which a practitioner specializes. These kinds of articles, which are often referred to as “law reviews,” are typically published by academic or professional journals. They are intended for readers who have some prior knowledge of the subject matter, such as lawyers or law students. These articles usually include footnotes and use specialized vocabulary. They also frequently contain citations to authoritative legal sources, such as case laws or legislative statutes. Law reviews are often reviewed by other law professors and scholars for accuracy and relevance. They are not intended to be a substitute for the research and analysis performed by lawyers on behalf of their clients.