Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. People who work in the law often study a variety of subjects including history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. A law degree can lead to a career in the legal profession, in which the job is to advise people about the law, represent them in court or make decisions and punishments.
The law serves a number of purposes: to keep peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities and promote social justice. Many nations use the law to enforce these goals through military force, although other nations have achieved these goals through diplomacy and trade. Some nations are ruled by authoritarian governments, which serve their own interests but often oppress minorities and political opponents (e.g., Burma, Zimbabwe and Iraq under Saddam Hussein). The law can also be used to promote international cooperation in resolving disputes through peaceful means. The law is a source of scholarly inquiry and the subject of much debate, with philosophers, economists and sociologists exploring topics such as equality and justice.
The Law is composed of various branches, with each branch governing a specific area of the economy and society. Contract law deals with agreements to exchange goods, services or anything else of value; property law defines the rights and duties of people toward tangible things they possess, such as houses and cars. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to social order and whose perpetrators may be punished by imprisonment or fines. Civil law, which is found on all continents and accounts for about 60% of the world’s legal systems, is based on concepts, categories and rules derived from Roman law and sometimes supplemented by custom or culture.
Other branches of the law include administrative law, which regulates the operations of governments and public institutions such as schools and hospitals; constitutional law, which outlines fundamental principles governing the structure of a nation; and environmental law, which addresses the protection of natural resources. The law also includes a wide range of laws dealing with particular social situations and events, such as immigration law, family law, labor law and corporate law. In addition, the law consists of the various codes and standards that govern a nation’s activities, such as the International Code of Criminal Procedure and the United States Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.