What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules and guidelines for human conduct, whether in a family, community, business or country. Some laws are imposed by governments, while others are made by private individuals and groups. The main purposes of laws are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights.

The creation of laws is influenced by constitutions (written or tacit) and the values encoded in them. Some political leaders may write laws that benefit them and a few other people at the expense of society, but most legal systems have checks and balances to prevent this. These include a group legislature or parliament that votes on laws and a court of appeals that reviews cases and determines guilt or innocence when someone is charged with a crime.

Government-enforced laws can be made by the legislative branch, resulting in statutes; created by the executive branch, resulting in regulations; or established by judges through precedent, resulting in case law. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements, which are alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.

Different types of law exist to cover things like intellectual property, which defines the rights people have over things they create, such as art and music. Patents are the right to own inventions, while trademarks are names and logos that can be used by companies to distinguish their products or services from those of their competitors. Other types of law include civil rights, which protect the rights and freedoms of citizens; employment law, which sets the conditions for people to work; criminal law, which prevents people from breaking the rules; property law, which defines the rights and responsibilities of owners of land and objects (including cars), and tort law, which helps individuals make claims against businesses that cause harm or injuries.

Various theories on the nature of law have been debated over the centuries. For example, utilitarians such as John Austin say that laws are commands from a sovereign authority, with the threat of punishment encouraging obedience; while philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau believe that they are based on natural laws of nature and reflect innate moral values.

Articles on law should be clear and easy to understand, as many readers will be unfamiliar with technical legal terms. If necessary, articles should be accompanied by definitions and examples to help explain the legal concepts being discussed. Moreover, it is important that an article on law stays current, as laws and other legal matters change frequently. This is especially important if the article is going to be used by lawyers, who must stay abreast of recent developments. For this reason, a good law article should contain references to recent legal opinions and decisions. It should also be cited properly to provide readers with additional sources for further research. If the author of an article is not familiar with legal terms, they should be consulted for clarification. For more information on citing, see How to Cite a Law Journal.