What Is Law?


Often referred to as “the art of justice”, law is a set of rules enforceable by social institutions. It serves as a mediator of relations between people and can be used to preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, and maintain peace within a nation.

Legal systems can be divided into common law systems, civil law systems, and international law systems. Each of these systems has different characteristics. Common law systems are distinguished by their explicit acknowledgement of decisions made by courts and their use of the doctrine of precedent. Civil law systems require less judicial decision making and tend to be shorter in duration. In the international law system, judicial decisions are often based on treaties or agreements deposited with governments.

The concept of law traces back to ancient Greek philosophy. According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, law is the moral laws of nature. In the 18th century, John Austin characterized law as a command from a sovereign. The concept of “natural law” re-entered mainstream culture through the writings of Thomas Aquinas. In the 19th century, utilitarian theories dominated the field of law.

Modern legal systems share many characteristics with common law systems. However, modern lawyers must have a special qualification to practice law. They must obtain a Juris Doctor degree and take a qualifying examination. They must also complete a Master of Laws degree. Other academic degrees include a Doctor of Laws, a Master of Legal Studies, or a Bar Professional Training Course.

In modern countries, the term civil society is often used to refer to social institutions and partnerships. It includes companies, communities, and individuals. In some countries, civil society may also refer to the government. In most OECD countries, water and energy are regulated industries. The US Uniform Commercial Code codifies the common law commercial principles.

Law is usually enforced through social institutions such as courts, courts of law, or government. These institutions are responsible for establishing, maintaining, and changing the rules of behavior. Law also shapes the economic, political, and social structure of a nation. In some countries, it is based on the principles of democracy.

Laws can be state-enforced or private-enforced. State-enforced laws can be made by the executive branch through decrees, or by a group legislature. Private-enforced laws can be made by private individuals through arbitration agreements, or by private parties through legally binding contracts.

The International Law Commission is a group of 34 members that represent the world’s major legal systems. The Commission prepares drafts on various aspects of international law and works with specialized UN agencies to help settle international disputes. The Commission’s members do not represent governments. It promotes the progressive development of international law. In addition to developing drafts, the Commission also consults with UN specialized agencies and serves as experts in their individual capacity.

Law can also be considered a “science”. It is made up of rules that are deliberately chosen for specific purposes. Some legal systems do a better job of serving these purposes than others.