What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules enforced by the state that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. It differs from suggestions and good advice in that it must be followed, or sanctions imposed. It may be a criminal or civil law. Criminal laws punish certain activities whereas civil laws are aimed at resolving disputes. Laws can be imposed by the government, but they can also be created and agreed upon by private parties. For example, a contract requiring payment for goods or services is enforceable under civil law.

The precise definition of law is a matter of ongoing debate, but many scholars agree that law is a social tool for control and justice. It is generally a means of preventing violence or resolving disputes, regulating trade, and providing for the public good. Other purposes of law include keeping order, maintaining the status quo, preserving individual rights and freedoms, protecting minorities from majorities, promoting social justice, and allowing for orderly social change. Some legal systems are better at achieving these goals than others.

A variety of different legal systems exist, including common law, civil law, and Islamic law. Some of these have historical roots, while others are more recent innovations. A key feature of any legal system is that it should be accessible to its citizens. This requires advance disclosure of rules, a code that is easy to understand, and a reasonable degree of stability, so that people can plan their actions with confidence.

The most widely used legal system is Western civil law, which is based on the principle of ‘natural justice’. This requires all members of a society to be equal before the courts and must be impartial, regardless of wealth, status or rank. In practice, this often leads to a ‘rule of law’ that tries to limit the role of the state and empower individuals.

The concept of law is also sometimes applied to non-governmental institutions, such as families, workplaces, and religions. A wide range of professional careers are available for people who wish to study the law, advise clients, or enforce laws. However, the law is not necessarily a positive force in human society and can often have unintended consequences. For this reason, there is a growing movement towards more community-based approaches to legal issues. Some examples of this are the use of alternative dispute resolution, community courts and restorative justice. The use of these approaches can be a way to improve the overall quality of the law and reduce its power over people. This article was written by the legal team at LexisNexis®. For help with your specific legal issue, please contact a lawyer. This website contains general information about legal matters. It does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Please read our disclaimer. Copyright 2018 LexisNexis®, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. No part of this site may be copied or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express written consent of LexisNexis®.