What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules created and enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior in specific areas such as crime, trade, property, finance, and personal relationships. Its precise definition is a subject of ongoing debate. The central purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights.

The laws of different countries vary widely, as do their social and political systems. For example, some nations use a common law system where judges decide cases, while others have a civil law system based on specific codes that judges must follow.

Some scholars view law as an emergent social structure that is shaped by the actions of individuals who participate in its various functions. Others see it as a system of beliefs and practices that is determined by the nature of a community, and that differs between communities.

Modern formal sources of law are statutes or legislation, judicial precedents, and customs. Other persuasive sources, not binding on judges, are foreign judgments, principles of morality or equity, concepts of justice, and professional opinions.

The societal function of law is to establish what is right and wrong and to regulate behavior and relationships by imposing consequences through punishments or rewards. It is also the foundation for a society’s monetary system and provides stability in commerce, business transactions, and public safety. People who work in the legal profession (which includes lawyers, judges, and police officers) specialize in interpreting, applying, and enforcing laws.