The Basics of Law

Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in numerous ways. It provides a medium through which individuals cooperate to solve problems and fulfill needs in society, and serves as an instrument of social control and a mediator of relationships between individuals and groups of people. It defines and enshrines the rights and obligations of citizens, and it regulates activities in a variety of fields, from contracting to marriage to bioscience.

The concept of law is contested, and a wide range of theories on the nature of law exist. John Austin’s utilitarian definition, for example, argues that “law consists of the aggregate set of commandments imposed by a superior on his subjects as a matter of necessity, backed by the threat of sanction.” Other philosophers have proposed more ontological theories of law. For example, Arthur Holmes argued that the essence of law is immanent and probabilistic and that its rules are revealed through the experience of bad behavior.

In a legal system, laws are generally established by legislative statutes and executive regulations, with judicial rulings forming the foundation of civil law systems. Court decisions are referred to as the law of the case and are usually binding on lower courts, known as the principle of stare decisis. Consequently, judges’ opinions can significantly influence the criteria used in a jury trial. The law of the case has also been criticized as a means to keep the law biased, since it can prevent the emergence of new legal precedents.

There are many fields of law, including tort law (when a person’s property or reputation is damaged), contract law, property law and family law. Immigration law and nationality law deal with the right of people to live and work in a nation-state that is not their own, as well as the process by which they gain or lose citizenship. Criminal law, which governs crimes against the state, is a branch of law that is heavily influenced by the prevailing social attitudes toward criminals and their victims.

The field of law is also concerned with the legal status of corporations, which are recognized as distinct entities by the laws of many nations. The laws that define the rights of shareholders, directors and employees of a corporation are called corporate law. Commercial law is a broad field, covering complex contracts, the laws of agency and insurance, and laws on bills of exchange, insolvency and bankruptcy, sales and property.

Several fields of law exist that deal with specific types of situations, such as terrorism and espionage. There are also law journals that publish articles about particular aspects of law, and universities offer courses in the study of law. A career as a lawyer or jurist can be very rewarding and challenging. Many people are pursuing it. The legal profession is a rapidly growing industry. Many countries have legal education programs for students interested in becoming lawyers or judges. Others have graduate programs that prepare students for careers in other legal fields.