What is Law?


Law is a body of rules imposing an order on the world. It serves four principal purposes: setting standards; enforcing those standards; resolving disputes and protecting the liberties and rights of citizens. Law is a subject of scholarly inquiry in history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. It shapes politics, economics and culture in myriad ways. It is the subject of a lively debate over whether our judges should be politically neutral or not, and it raises important questions about equality and justice.

It is the subject of a great many fields of study, with some notable exceptions:

A lawyer studies contracts, family law, property, labour law and criminal law, for example. Other legal subjects, such as evidence law, concern what material is admissible in court and which arguments are permitted to be made in a case. A judge might specialize in civil or criminal law or might focus on a particular area of the country.

A legal scholar might also specialize in the law of war, the law of treaties or international law. A judge might decide cases involving criminal or civil procedures, or might try to make the best possible decisions in a case involving novel issues, called a case of first impression. Frequently, a judge might create new law by departing from existing precedent. Occasionally, a legislature might nullify a court’s decision by passing a new statute. The precise definition of law is an ongoing matter of dispute.

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