What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules created by a society or government that are enforced to deal with issues such as crime, business contracts, and social relationships. It is also the name of a discipline that studies these laws and their effects. The term “law” can also refer to specific legal documents, such as a statute or an ordinance.

It is difficult to define law, and different individuals have a variety of ideas about what it means. However, most definitions include the notion that law is a set of commands issued by a sovereign and backed by the threat of sanctions. This understanding of law reflects the fact that many laws are written to coerce people, or at least influence their behavior, through the power of force and fear.

Many legal scholars have questioned this interpretation of law, and some have suggested that law is more than simply a collection of commands backed by the threat of force. For example, some have argued that the law can be moral in nature and that the guiding principles of a nation’s legal system should reflect core human, procedural, and property rights. The concepts of morals and law are often related, and a number of schools of philosophy have explored the relationship between them.

Some of the most important functions of law are to maintain peace and order, preserve the status quo, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and allow for orderly social change. The way in which a government meets these goals differs greatly from nation to nation, and the quality of a country’s legal system is often measured by its ability to serve these fundamental purposes.

There are many branches of law, ranging from criminal law to family law to competition law. Each of these fields is important in its own way, but a few general principles apply across the field. For example, contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods or services, while property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible assets such as land, buildings, and personal possessions.

In addition, each branch of law interacts with the other in a unique way. For example, federal laws impose specific limitations on state law in areas like aviation and railroads, while a small number of federal statutes are designed to preempt state law in other cases, such as antitrust law and consumer protection. Similarly, court decisions that interpret the meaning of a statute or regulation carry considerable legal weight, based on the doctrine of stare decisis. This article was originally published on the LibreTexts website and has been modified for reuse here. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. For more information, see the LibreTexts CC BY-NC-SA license. The original text can be found here. The authors and editors of LibreTexts have reviewed this work for accuracy, but the original copyright owner is responsible for the final content. This page does not constitute legal advice for your specific case, and we encourage you to consult an attorney for professional legal assistance.