Law is the discipline and profession that deals with systems of laws and their application in defending rights, securing justice and settling disputes. It includes the study of the rules of evidence and how courts conduct trials, hearings and appeals. The legal profession offers a wide range of job opportunities.
The most common definition of law is “a set of principles that governs the behaviour of individuals or groups and identifies their responsibilities, privileges and duties.” In addition to setting out responsibilities, laws also protect individual rights and provide for social cohesion and safety. A well-ordered society requires the rule of law to prevent disorder and violence.
However, even in a peaceful society disagreements and conflicts arise. For example, two people may have claims to the same piece of property. If they cannot agree, the courts can decide which person has rightful ownership of the land. The law can also settle family disputes, including divorce and custody of children.
Legal scholars have described the law as a set of “rules and customs that regulate human behavior, deal with criminality, trade and social relations, property, finances and the like”. It is enforced by the state and has a binding force on all members of a given community, regardless of status or wealth.
It is not possible to know the precise meaning of any law, but the words of a statute should be interpreted in their totality and context. The principle is that a statute should be construed “in pari materia” with other statutes dealing with the same general subject matter. In other words, a construction that renders one statute meaningless or incompatible with another shouldn’t be used.
In addition, the law should be based on reason free from passion, and be capable of being understood by the average person. A legislative system that imposes its own language and obscure jargon on citizens would be counterproductive.
The law is the expression of a society’s values and ideals. It can be proven or hypothetical, sanctioned or unsanctioned, harmonious or antagonistic. Yet, as a concept it is unique from other sciences and disciplines in that it is normative (saying how people ought to behave) rather than descriptive or causal (saying what happens).
As a result, it lacks some features of empirical science (such as the law of gravity), and social science or philosophy (such as a philosophy of good and evil, or justice, or proper distribution of goods and burdens in a society). Laws are thus more complex from a methodological standpoint than, for example, scientific theories of good and evil. Consequently, the discipline of law requires a much greater degree of skill and knowledge than do other sciences and disciplines. A lawyer must therefore have a high level of academic achievement, and pass a rigorous admissions exam. Lawyers are also often trained to be eloquent and to use a variety of rhetorical techniques. They are also often required to have experience with practical aspects of the law, for instance preparing for trial or arguing a case.