What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. Modern legal systems may be state-enforced, where laws are formulated by legislatures resulting in statutes, or they can be privately enforced, where laws are established through judges’ decisions resulting in case law (a system still employed in some common law jurisdictions). Private individuals can also create their own legally binding contracts, such as lease agreements and property deeds.

Many fields of law exist, ranging from criminal law to environmental protection. Law informs politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways. Law is used by both public and private actors, and it is found in most cultures.

Contract law governs agreements that exchange goods, services, or anything else of value, from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Property law establishes a person’s rights and duties toward tangible and intangible possessions, whether it be real estate such as a house or a car, or personal belongings like clothes or books. Competition law, derived from Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade doctrine, is used to control businesses that attempt to manipulate market prices at the expense of consumer welfare. Space law addresses international treaties and law governing human activities in Earth orbit and outer space.

Tax law includes regulations about corporate, income, property and value added taxes, as well as banking and financial regulation. Banks are regulated by the law to ensure that they have sufficient capital to cover potential losses. Labor law is a complex field that covers employment practices, workplace safety, and wages and benefits. Consumer law covers everything from anti-cartel and anti-trust laws to fair credit reporting and airline baggage laws.

There are many other areas of law, such as maritime and shipping laws, aviation laws, the law of the sea, patent law, international law, and constitutional law. Law students typically enroll in courses that are taught by professors with varied expertise and scholarly interests.

The rule of law is a global principle that requires states and their institutions to adhere to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated in accordance with internationally recognized standards and norms. It also requires adherence to the principles of separation of powers, participation in decision-making, accountability of government and private actors to the law, the supremacy of the law, and respect for international legal obligations. It is the basis for healthy communities of justice, opportunity and peace. Law is one of the core subjects studied in most schools of higher education. Some universities have specialized programs in certain areas of law, such as LSU’s School of Law, which is renowned for its Clinical Legal Education program where students gain hands-on experience representing live clients under the supervision of faculty. Other universities offer a general law degree or a joint degree with other disciplines, such as business, engineering, medicine or science.