Law is the collection of rules and procedures that govern the way a nation or community does business, carries out justice or enforces its rights. The term can also refer to the profession of advising people about the law and representing them in court.
The fundamental task of law is to ensure that all members of society enjoy basic rights and are treated fairly. This requires the existence of checks and balances on government power, a free press, an independent judiciary and other institutions that can protect against abuses of power. The law can also help to regulate and encourage a healthy economy, for example, through banking law and the regulation of utilities such as water supply.
It can be argued that the basic concept of law is essentially the same across the world, although some differences between legal systems are apparent. Traditionally, laws were split into civil law and common law systems, although the importance of this distinction is diminishing. The specific system used in any jurisdiction is determined by a number of factors, including its history and connections with other countries, its adherence to international standards and the sources that it considers authoritatively binding.
In its more general sense, the word law denotes a set of rules prescribed by some superior power, for instance God or nature, that must be obeyed. It can also be a set of precepts by which man, as the most intelligent and best of all sublunary creatures, is commanded to act: a set of rules that govern human behaviour.
There are many different branches of law, covering almost every aspect of daily life. Banking law, for example, regulates the minimum amounts of capital banks must hold and rules about how to invest it. Property law deals with people’s ownership of tangible objects (such as houses) and intangible things (such as bank accounts or shares). Family law relates to marriage, divorce and the rights of children. Administrative law, meanwhile, concerns the way in which government agencies manage public resources and make decisions.
Each branch of law has its own special nuances. In common law jurisdictions, for example, determining “what the law is” in a particular case involves several stages of research and analysis. One must first ascertain the facts and then find any statutes, cases and other legal documents that may be relevant. Then one must extract from these sources the principles, analogies and statements that give rise to the jurisprudence of that branch of law, which will then be applied to the facts of the case at hand. The decisions of higher courts carry more weight than those of lower courts, but even the decisions of these higher courts are not necessarily binding in all cases. Law is, therefore, a very complex field to study. It is a subject that is constantly evolving, with new issues arising as old ones are resolved and the needs of the contemporary society come to the fore.