What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. It includes a range of social, moral, ethical, and historical concepts. Law is a subject of inquiry that requires analytical thinking, critical reading and writing, and oral communication skills. It also involves a great deal of research and collaboration.

It is unique among sciences and disciplines because of its normative character; it specifies how people ought to behave and what they may or must not require from others, whereas empirical science (like the law of gravity) describes what happens and does not explain why it happens. A normative statement in law reflects a value judgment made by an authority that cannot be reversed, as can be seen in laws against murder or forbidding gambling.

There are many different kinds of legal systems, each with its own culture and history. Common law systems, such as that of the United States, feature a “doctrine of precedent” whereby decisions of higher courts bind lower courts. Other systems are based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia or Christian canon law.

A major branch of law is criminal law, which encompasses the punishment of individuals who violate societal norms or commit crimes against a state’s security or property. A related area is constitutional law, which includes studies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Other branches of law include administrative law; air law; bankruptcy; carriage of goods; contract; civil procedure; employment law; family law; maritime law; property law; tax law; and medical jurisprudence.