Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Law is a source of scholarly inquiry, including legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. A career in law can be a rewarding and exciting endeavor, but one that requires a great deal of effort and dedication to succeed.
There are many different types of laws. Some are based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia, while others are more akin to natural laws, like the law of gravity (which can be tested empirically). Regardless of their origin, all laws have certain similarities. The basic principles of law are universal and enduring, but there is considerable variation in the specifics of individual laws from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The specifics of law are often based on culture and the needs of the state. A state’s legal system can be governed by a constitution, written or tacit, that encodes certain fundamental rights. Alternatively, the law may be governed by statutes passed through legislative bodies or decreed by the executive branch. Private individuals can also create binding contracts that are legally enforceable in court. In “common law” systems, which are dominant in the United States and much of Europe, courts develop a body of precedent called “the law of stare decisis” to ensure that future cases reach similar results.
Laws can be divided into various categories, such as contract, criminal, property and torts. The most familiar of these is contract law, which regulates agreements that exchange goods or services, such as buying a bus ticket or trading options on a stock market. Property law, meanwhile, establishes people’s rights and duties toward tangible property such as land or buildings and intangible property such as money or shares of stock. Torts, on the other hand, deal with conduct that violates a person’s rights and can result in damages.
In addition to regulating behavior, laws are often used for other purposes, such as setting the tone of public debate, establishing national priorities and making international treaties. Because of these broader societal benefits, the study of law is a popular topic in school curricula. Some students go on to careers in the field, working as lawyers, judges, lobbyists and policy makers. Other students choose to focus on particular aspects of the legal system, such as the law of war or environmental laws. Others choose to become academics in the field of law and write about their research or critique new legislation. Regardless of their career plans, all students should have a solid understanding of how laws are made and why they work the way they do.