What Is The Law?

The laws of a society define what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour in the community, and are enforced by the authorities that have the power to do so. The principal purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberty and property. Laws that apply to the whole community are called common law. The term law can also refer to a body of rules set by a particular government or court. These are known as statutory law or constitutional law. The discipline and profession concerned with the study of these rules is called jurisprudence.

It is not always possible to say what the law is in a given situation, because it depends on many different factors. To determine what the law is one must ascertain the facts of the case, read any relevant statutes or cases, and examine all the arguments, principles, analogies and statements made by courts that have addressed similar situations. More recent decisions and those of higher courts generally carry more weight than earlier ones.

In a law school students take courses that lead to a professional degree, typically a Juris Doctor (JD) or Master of Laws (LLM). The first year of a law program often covers compulsory core subjects that give a broad base on which to choose more specific specializations later in the course. Almost all law programs provide some practical law training in the form of a legal clinic or moot court, which gives students the chance to work with real-life clients and develop key skills such as research and analysis.

Many law schools offer the option to spend a year abroad, particularly in countries where students can combine law with a foreign language or other subject areas of interest. Some law schools also provide the opportunity to work for a law firm during the course of studies, which can be valuable experience and help students gain work after graduation.

The law may be understood as a ‘normative science’, a system that defines the behaviour expected of members of a certain society. Hans Kelsen proposed the pure theory of law, which sees law as a scientific approach to normative science and a description of what must occur rather than a prediction of what will happen. The act of a participant assigning true or false values to mathematically undecidable propositions constitutes experience, and the process of evaluating experience leads to a flow of probabilistic predictions that form the law. In this sense, Holmes’s ontological definition of law is a useful starting point.