The Study of Law

Law is a set of rules established and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition has been a source of longstanding debate. For instance, some define it as “the aggregate set of rules imposed by a superior power on inferior subjects.” Others argue that laws are simply the expression of a sovereign’s authority. They may not have any moral content, but are simply orders backed by force and must be obeyed. Still others point out that laws often express a moral stance, such as prohibitions against insider trading or due process (fundamental fairness and decency in government actions).

The study of law includes an examination of the ways it shapes politics, economics, history, society and culture. It encompasses a vast array of fields, from contract law and family law to labour law and competition law.

It is important for the study of law to understand that there are a number of different systems of law in use around the world. For example, some countries have an extensive legal system based on a written constitution while others have no such system but operate on a common core of fundamental rights.

Another way to look at the law is to examine it as a tool used by the state to manage people’s lives and control social problems, such as war and poverty. This perspective is known as legal positivism. The concept is based on the idea that the purpose of law is to protect against anarchy, a Hobbesian war of all against all, and to enable people to plan their affairs with reasonable confidence that they will not encounter official arbitrariness.

There are a number of issues that arise in the study of law, including how laws are made, whether they are understandable to everyone and how stable they are over time. The fact that laws are interpreted by humans, normally attorneys and judges, also raises questions about their accuracy and consistency.

Laws may be created by a legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive, in decrees and regulations; or by a judge or group of judges, in court decisions that have broader legal weight (also called precedent or stare decisis). Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements.

The practice of law is overseen by a professional body such as a bar association or law society, and lawyers must undergo specific training to achieve their distinct professional identity. Some of these bodies have a religious basis, while some are simply independent regulating bodies. Others have a political element; for instance, the military in Myanmar imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi because of its power over the country’s judicial system. Some academics see this as a sign that there are limits to the pure theory of law. Others think this is a dangerous and flawed approach to law.