Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human conduct. Its precise definition is a matter of debate, but scholars have argued that the primary purposes of law are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect liberties and rights. The study of law involves questions about its morality, social context and economic impact. The subject is at the heart of a number of academic fields, including legal history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis.
A central theme in law is the relationship between government and its citizens. The extent to which the state can extend its powers over an individual’s daily life is a question that has been shaped by philosophers such as Max Weber and has been influenced by the rise of modern military, police and bureaucratic power over ordinary citizens. The nature of the relationships between a state, its citizens and other states and organizations is a matter of ongoing debate, with questions ranging from the balance between national security and civil liberty to the role of multinational corporations in the development of global legal systems.
The practice of law encompasses a wide range of activities, from enforcing contracts to deciding criminal cases. Other areas of law include taxation, corporate governance, employment law and public utilities regulation (for example water, electricity and gas). There are also specialised laws governing space and financial markets, such as banking and securities regulations.
Legal systems vary greatly between countries. For example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but it may oppress minorities or oppress political opponents and is unlikely to promote social justice. In contrast, an inclusive democratic government may promote equality and provide for peaceful social change.
The specialized branches of law include corporate, bankruptcy and criminal law. These specialisms allow lawyers to focus on particular aspects of the law and to specialise in their clients’ interests. There are also specialised areas such as the law of evidence and the law of property, which cover specific types of ownership and the rules for gathering and presenting evidence in court.
The specialized branches of the law are used by judges, barristers, paralegals and other lawyers. There are also support services such as probation officers who screen applicants for pretrial release and monitor convicted offenders on parole. There are also a variety of auxiliary services such as a recorder who records court proceedings and an archivist who keeps copies of case files. The law is a complex and fascinating subject and is at the core of a number of important scholarly fields, including legal history, philosophy, sociology, economics and political science. The study of law also raises significant ethical issues, such as the nature of legitimacy and the extent to which the practice of law should be restricted to a limited group of people who are trained to interpret and apply the law in a fair and equitable way.