What Is Law?


Law is the body of rules that governs social and human interactions. Law reflects the social and cultural values of a community and regulates behavior by imposing sanctions or rewards for actions. Law may be state-enforced or self-enforced. State-enforced laws are created and enforced by a group of legislators, resulting in statutes; by the executive, resulting in decrees and regulations; or by judges, resulting in court decisions that become binding precedent (the “doctrine of stare decisis”). Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements.

Law has a number of functions, including keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, protecting individual rights, promoting social justice and providing for orderly change in society. Some legal systems are more effective at performing these functions than others. For example, an authoritarian government can keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it can also oppress minorities and political opponents.

There are several philosophical debates about the nature of law. One debate concerns the question of whether law is inherently coercive, i.e. whether its normative character depends on the fact that it is backed by the threat of sanctions or evil. Early twentieth century legal positivists like Hans Kelsen argued that it is. The modern Legal Realist school, on the other hand, has argued that it is not.

Another debate involves the extent to which law is reducible to other normative domains, such as morality or social conventions. Some philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham and John Austin, argued that law is simply commands, backed by the threat of sanctions from a sovereign to whom people have a habit of obedience. Others, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Aquinas, argued that law reflects innate principles of right and wrong that are unchanging and inherent in human nature.

The practice of law is the process by which a person becomes legally qualified to perform legal tasks or duties. It includes studying, researching, analyzing, interpreting and applying the law to specific situations. It also encompasses a range of skills, such as communication, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Lawyers must also be aware of ethical issues and comply with the law. Lawyers are required to complete a legal education program and pass a rigorous examination to obtain a license to practice law. Lawyers must also take continuing legal education courses to stay current with the law and to develop their skill set. Some lawyers are also required to have a particular area of specialization, such as criminal or civil law. Lawyers must also keep abreast of developments in the law through research, reading and attending lectures. Lawyers must always be prepared to defend their clients. In addition, lawyers must be able to write clearly and concisely. They must be able to convey complex concepts in a simple and understandable manner, while avoiding technical terms that are unfamiliar or obscure to their audiences. Lawyers are also required to be familiar with the constitution, legal precedent and case law of their jurisdiction and the international conventions regarding human rights.