What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that governments, institutions, and individuals set up to regulate behavior. It can include state-enforced laws, created by a legislature through statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or by judges established by precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions.

Generally, a law is a rule that citizens must follow or face punishment. This is commonly the case with criminal laws, which are designed to prevent people from harming others physically.

There are many types of laws, ranging from contract law to food safety. Some laws also cover things like regulating the use of public services, such as electricity and water.

Property law governs people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, such as land or movable possessions, and intangible property, such as a share of stock or a bank account. The most important part of property law is the law of land, which includes things like mortgages, rental agreements and statutory systems for land registration. Other areas of property law are intellectual property, company law and trusts.

Court – Government officials with the authority to decide lawsuits, including judges, justices, clerks, and jury pools.

Juror – A person selected by lawyers in a lawsuit to serve as a member of the jury. They are chosen through a process called voir dire (the French for “to examine”), which is meant to ensure that jurors are impartial in their deliberations and not biased by their personal beliefs.

Brief – A written statement submitted by the lawyers for each side in a case that explains to the judge(s) why they should decide the case in favor of that lawyer’s client.

Precedent – A court decision in an earlier case with facts and law similar to a dispute currently before a court that is deemed to be authoritative by the same judge. Some precedents are binding, meaning that they must be followed; other precedents need not be followed but can be considered influential.

Defendant – A person who is accused of a crime.

Trial – A hearing where the plaintiff and defendant present evidence and arguments to the judge, who makes a judgment based on what he or she believes is right.

Complaint – A document that states the defendant’s wrongdoing and seeks to recover damages.

Settlement – A settlement is a compromise between the parties to a lawsuit that resolves their differences without a formal trial. A settlement usually involves a sum of money that is paid by one party in satisfaction of the other’s claims.

Jurisprudence – The study of law and the structure of legal systems.

Note – A document written by law students, typically during their second year of school and published in a law journal.

Article – A written piece of scholarship that is not a Note or Comment, but is written by an author outside the student’s law school and typically published in a professional journal.

In addition to a description of the basic legal principles, the article will often provide a critique of recent legislative changes. In some areas, the language can be more technical and assumes a higher level of knowledge than the notes.