Law is a system of rules that regulates behaviour and ensures that individuals or communities adhere to the will of a powerful authority. In a legal sense, the term encompasses both written statutes and customary rules of conduct recognized and enforced by judicial decisions. The study of these laws is called jurisprudence. Law is a foundation of any society, and its function is to serve such purposes as: keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, protecting minorities against majorities, promoting social justice, and providing for orderly social change. Different systems of law achieve these objectives differently. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but it can also oppress minorities and suppress political opponents. In contrast, a democratic system can promote social justice and provide for peaceful social change.
There are many areas of law, and the subjects they cover intertwine and overlap. Core law subjects include contract law, criminal law, family law, property law, and tax law. In addition, laws on health and safety, the environment, labour law, and medical jurisprudence are common to most countries. Laws regulating the provision of public services such as energy, water and telecommunications are commonly found in developed countries.
The main features of any legal system are clear expression of rules and the capacity of the judiciary to adapt them to social change and new needs, by means of creative jurisprudence. In addition, it is important that citizens can access government information and that the transition of power is subject to checks and balances.
A legal system is shaped by the historical context in which it is created. For example, an authoritarian regime imposed by foreign powers may be stable and maintain the peace but it will be difficult to promote social justice or to protect minority rights. A democracy, on the other hand, will have a free press, independent courts and mechanisms to prevent abuses of power by government officials.
The practice of law is typically overseen by a professional governing body such as a bar association, or in some countries by a government ministry. Lawyers are trained to advise clients on legal issues and represent them in court. Many people are fascinated by the complexities of law, and a career as a lawyer can be lucrative and rewarding. However, a career in law is not for everyone and it is important to consider the risks before deciding to become a lawyer. Legal issues can be complex and sensitive, and it is crucial to understand the responsibilities and ethical obligations of lawyers. For further information on this topic, see Law and Lawyers’ Code of Ethics.