Law is the system of rules that governs a country or a group of people. It can include regulations, codes, and procedures for dispute resolution. It also includes legal rights and privileges. The law can affect all aspects of life, including the economy, politics, culture and society. It is the basis of many scholarly fields, such as legal history, philosophy and economic analysis.
Law has many different functions, which are generally split into four categories: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It is essential for a stable democracy. It is a source of debate and controversy in many societies. In modern times it has become increasingly important in regulating the activities of corporations and other large organisations, as well as providing for individual protections and the safety of public infrastructure such as roads and water supply.
A common way to organize laws is through a civil code, which contains the basic legal principles of a country. This is followed by case law, which is created by judges based on their decisions in specific lawsuits. Some cases become precedents, which must be followed in future similar disputes. The law can also be influenced by religious and other cultural traditions, such as Sharia law, which is used in some Islamic countries.
Lawyers are the most visible and active practitioners of law, but it is not a profession open to just anyone. Those who wish to practice law must undergo a period of study and training, usually culminating in a degree in a legal discipline such as a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor. Some universities have specialised law schools and offer postgraduate degrees such as Master of Laws or PhD in Law.
The word ‘law’ is derived from the Latin lege, meaning a course of action or behaviour. Law has been around for millennia, but the first written code is thought to have been the Babylonian Codex Hammurabi from about 1750 BC. In modern civil law jurisdictions, legislation passed by governments and codifications are the recognised sources of law, whereas in common law systems, judge-made precedent is important.
Other significant sources of law are administrative law and criminal law, which deal with infringements against the interests of the community. Some types of law are universal, such as human rights, which apply to all persons regardless of their origin or place of residence. Other law is local, such as city, county or state laws.
The law can shape politics, economics, history and culture in various ways, as illustrated by the wide variety of different legal systems that exist in the world today. Some are more sophisticated than others, but all share some core elements such as an enforceable code of conduct, an independent judiciary and the right to privacy. The law can also raise ethical and moral issues. For example, the concept of reasonableness is a key legal principle, but what may be considered unreasonable to one person may not be to another.