Law is the system of rules that a community recognizes as binding on its members and enforced by a controlling authority. It has four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
The discipline of law has many different areas of study. These include contract law, family law, human rights law, property law, constitutional law and tax law. There are also specialized fields of law such as environmental law, international law, biolaw and intellectual property law.
Each area of law has different subtopics. For example, labour law focuses on the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union and involves collective bargaining regulation and the right to strike, while civil procedure deals with a citizen’s right to a fair trial or hearing in court. Evidence law concerns which materials are admissible in courts for a case to be built.
One way to approach the law is through an historical lens. For example, Roscoe Pound’s definition of law was that it is “a means of social control.” Consequently, the felt necessities of a time, prevalent moral and political theories and intuitions of public policy (avowed or unconscious), have all had a great deal to do with the formation of laws, even when these are expressed in legal language as a logical system of axioms and corollaries.
Another way to approach the law is through an empirical lens. This view argues that laws exist because they are enforceable, and their enforcement can be trusted. To this end, judges are to base their decisions on a mixture of common sense, reason and experience. They are to interpret statutes and cases to determine how they should be applied to a new situation. Judges are to take into account precedents – decisions made under similar circumstances – and the authority of higher courts, legislatures or the Supreme Court.
The plethora of views on what constitutes the law makes it difficult to define. However, the field of legal studies has developed a range of theories to help understand it. Intentionalists give primacy to the intentions of lawmakers (the legislature in the case of statutory law and framers or ratifiers in the case of constitutional law). They argue that interpretation should be guided by these intentions even when they conflict with the meaning of the text of the law itself.