Understanding the Basics of Law


Law is a discipline that studies an extensive body of rules that governs human behavior and the conduct of societies and businesses. This body of laws is a complex set of principles and concepts that include the rules for property, contracts, personal freedoms and rights, and justice (proper distribution of goods/privileges and burdens in a society).

It is important to understand that legal concepts are not like other sciences or disciplines such as biology, economics, or sociology. Legal concepts are normative, meaning they state how people ought to act or what they may do if allowed to do so by others, and as such they are not subject to the same methods of verification that empirical or social science laws can be. Moreover, normative statements in the law do not have to be backed up by evidence, as would be required for a normal scientific statement (such as a law of gravity).

As such, legal concepts are subject to an enormous variety of interpretations and opinions. It is also important to note that laws are influenced by and reflect the culture, history, values and traditions of a society and its individual members. Laws are therefore very complex from a philosophical perspective.

Law is composed of a vast number of sub-fields and branches that span almost all areas of human activity. The three major fields are civil, criminal and administrative law. Civil law deals with disputes between individuals, such as a lawsuit over an automobile accident or defamation of character. Criminal law concerns offenses against the state or its citizens, such as murder or theft. Administrative law, which includes taxation and education, is the area of law that encompasses a wide range of regulatory agencies and institutions.

Modern lawyers obtain a distinct professional identity through a rigorous process that often includes successfully passing a bar exam. They must also follow certain practices, such as being bound by the rules of ethics and practicing law only in a specified jurisdiction or practice area. They must also adhere to a strict code of conduct and be regularly monitored by their peers and the independent regulating bodies of the profession.

The purpose of law is to establish standards, maintain order, resolving conflicts, and protecting liberties and rights. The best legal systems meet these objectives. They are based on the principles of free and fair elections of representatives, transparent procedures, clear and publicized rules, stable and consistent application, accessible and equitable adjudication, and timely and effective administration of justice. They are staffed by competent, ethical and independently appointed representatives and neutrals, who are accessible to the community and reflect the makeup of their communities. They are backed by well-developed and internationally recognized academic doctrine that inspires the legislature and judiciary. They are adaptable to social change and new needs through creative jurisprudence. They ensure that government and private actors are held accountable. They are publicized and easily understood, and they protect the property and privacy of citizens.