Law is the set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It can include statutes, codes, and common law; the study of such laws is known as jurisprudence. Law can also refer to the profession of a lawyer or judge.
The most important purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Even in the best of societies, people sometimes disagree about what is right or fair. To resolve these disagreements peacefully, the law provides a system for courts to decide what is just. For example, if two people claim ownership of the same land, instead of fighting over it they can turn to the courts to determine who has the right to the property. The law also establishes a standard of behavior for public officials, who are required to follow the law and protect the citizens they serve.
Law can be divided into many areas, including contract law; family law; criminal law; property law; and tort law. Criminal laws deal with actions against the community that are considered harmful and which may be punished by a court of justice, such as murder or robbery. Tort laws offer compensation for damages suffered by an individual due to the negligence or wrongful actions of another party, such as automobile accidents or defamation. Property law regulates the acquisition, use and transfer of property.
Other types of law are administrative law and constitutional law. Administrative law deals with the day-to-day operations of a government, such as taxation, licensing and zoning. Constitutional law is concerned with the principles upon which a state or nation is founded. It includes the supreme court, the federal courts, and state legislatures.
The study of the law can involve many scholarly fields, including legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. For example, some studies of the law examine how different cultures perceive it, while others analyze the effects of economics and politics on the development of the law. A growing area of study concerns the nature of law itself. Some philosophers have viewed it as an ontological concept, while others have described it as a social construct. Still others have examined the differences between an individual’s tale of legal inequality and a codified community narrative of equal opportunity for all. This latter perspective has led to a lively debate about whether judges should be above political and economic considerations when making decisions.