Law is a system of rules for a society that govern how people can live together peacefully. These laws are enforced by mechanisms such as police and courts. People who break these laws may be punished with fines or imprisonment. Law is a fundamental part of societies and influences their politics, economics, history and social development in many ways.
Roscoe Pound came up with a definition of law that includes three elements: “a means of social control; a tool of social engineering; and a coercive instrument.”
The function of a law is to satisfy the social needs of people in society. These needs can be anything from maintaining the status quo to ensuring justice and freedom for all citizens. In most nations today, the primary source of law is the constitution, a document that establishes the general framework for a society. People then make more specific laws for matters of detail. For example, contracts regulate agreements between individuals and businesses; torts provide compensation for injury or harm caused by other people; property laws establish rights and duties toward tangible and intangible property. Criminal laws address violations of the general principles established in the constitution.
Some laws are based on social customs or beliefs, and others are based on the idea that human beings have natural and unchanging principles. Some philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham, have used utilitarian reasoning to define the purpose of law. Others, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argue that law reflects innate moral laws that are unchangeable.
A nation’s laws are generally influenced by its culture and the historical experiences of its citizens. People who have no experience with a particular legal system are often unable to assess its value. This is because different legal systems address the same questions of life in very different ways.
There are also many differences between the legal systems of different countries. Differences include the structure of governments, how laws are made and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The stability and quality of a legal system are also important factors. For example, a country with an authoritarian government can keep the peace and maintain the status quo but could oppress minorities or political opponents.
Law is a vast area of study with many subfields. Examples of these fields are constitutional law, international law and family law. The field of law also includes legal ethics, legal philosophy and the study of the history of law. Professionals who study and practice law are called attorneys or jurists. Law students and lawyers often write articles about the law to help other people understand it. Articles about law are usually written for a variety of audiences and include both technical and nontechnical information. Many of these articles are published in scholarly journals or academic books. Other sources of information about the law include newspapers and magazines. Many of these articles include quotes from judicial proceedings and court opinions. Some of these articles are available in full text online.