Law is a set of rules and regulations that a society creates to govern its citizens, institutions and activities. It serves four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The precise nature of laws varies between nation-states, and the political landscape is often complex. A recurring theme in the law is the struggle for democracy and greater “rights” for citizens. Revolutions are difficult and contentious, but each year many countries face challenges to existing legal-political authority.
The subject of law encompasses a vast and varied range of fields, but can be broadly classified as civil law, criminal law and administrative law. Other significant areas of law include labour and family law, property law, commercial law and constitutional law. The study of law is an area of academic research, and many universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in the subject.
Legal theory is the philosophical basis for law, and encompasses a wide range of issues. It considers whether or not law should comprise precepts of a certain import, and what the limits are of what can be legislated (law cannot command behaviours that are beyond human capability). It also examines how laws change over time.
It is also concerned with the ethical implications of laws and their enforcement, and how a system of justice should be structured. This is a broad and challenging field, encompassing such topics as the rule of law, the role of judges and other legal professionals in a democratic society, the relationship between the law and religion, and the nature of judicial discretion.
There is a lively debate over whether or not the law should be seen as a form of social control, and the philosophy of law is an important part of the study of law. There are also deep issues that surround the drafting of laws themselves.
In a common law legal system, the decisions of judges are acknowledged as law on an equal footing with statutes passed through the legislative process. This doctrine, known as stare decisis, is intended to ensure that similar cases reach similar results. In contrast, in civil law systems, judge decisions are less influential on subsequent rulings. In both systems, laws may be repealed or modified if they are deemed to be unjust or outdated. For this reason, a lawyer must constantly update their knowledge of the law.