What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. The law serves many purposes, but four principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Laws may be enacted by legislatures, resulting in statutes; by the executive branch through decrees and regulations; or by judges through case law, resulting in common law. Private individuals also create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.

Roscoe Pound’s law definition centers on the notion that law is a means of social control. He argued that the purpose of law is to meet social wants, while its nature is coercive. This view of law is in contrast to the utilitarian views of John Austin and Bentham.

Legal theories range from those that view law as a science to those that view it as an art form. Hans Kelsen, for example, posited the pure theory of law, which viewed the law as a “normative science.” Kelsen maintained that the laws of the universe are fixed and unchanging, but that the judicial decisions that implement them are not.

In modern societies, the law defines many aspects of life, from contract law to property law to criminal and family law. Business law, for example, consists of laws that regulate commercial transactions and protect consumers. Competition law traces back to Roman decrees against price fixing and the English restraint of trade doctrine, and is today largely based on U.S. antitrust and anti-monopoly statutes. Consumer law, meanwhile, varies from state to state, but generally includes everything from restrictions on unfair contract terms and clauses to directives on airline baggage insurance.

Most of these laws are imposed by legislative bodies, which can consist of one or more representatives or senators. Bills are submitted to a committee for study, and then they may be debated and voted on. When they pass in identical forms by both chambers of Congress, they become laws. Some laws, such as federal statutes, are published in the Federal Register and codified in the Code of Federal Regulations. Many lawsuits revolve around the interpretation of laws, and judicial decisions on these issues carry legal force under the principle of stare decisis.

Law is an important career field for people who are interested in public service and in helping others. A degree in Law is a highly respected one, and a law firm job offers excellent benefits and opportunity for advancement. It is important for those considering a career in Law to realize that it is not an easy degree, and that it takes a great deal of hard work and commitment to succeed. Those that do succeed in this field can expect to enjoy a long, rewarding and lucrative career.