Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been described as both a science and an art of justice. Law informs and shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways. It governs contracts, property and criminal activity. It also provides a source of scholarly inquiry in areas such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.
In law, there is a growing interest in the relationship between ethics and the practice of law. Some people believe that lawyers should be required to live by a code of ethical conduct and to uphold high standards of professional responsibility and morality. Others believe that the ethics of law are essentially a matter of common sense.
The study of law encompasses a wide range of fields, such as legal history, philosophy, political science and economic analysis. It is a primary subject in universities around the world. It is also a field that attracts a diverse population of students and offers a number of career paths.
There are two basic types of laws: civil and criminal. Civil law jurisdictions, which cover about 60% of the world’s population, are based on concepts and categories derived from Roman law, with some influence from canon law, often supplemented or modified by local custom and culture. The prevailing civil system of law focuses on the rights and duties of individuals toward tangible property (such as land and buildings) and intangible possessions (like money and stocks). Civil law jurisdictions do not punish people for criminal acts.
In contrast, criminal law deals with activities that are considered harmful to the social order and in which a guilty party may be punished by imprisonment or fines. Criminal law jurisdictions are governed by both statute and case law. Statutes are laws passed by legislative bodies, and case law is the decision of judges in court cases.
Courts in many jurisdictions are bound by the decisions of higher courts that can review their judgments. This is known as binding precedent, and it allows a judge in another case to use a previous decision as a guide for ruling on similar facts and issues.
In the United States, a lawyer can work in a variety of fields and specialties, including criminal, civil, family, probate and domestic relations, bankruptcy, corporate and business transactions, intellectual property, immigration, labor and employment, securities, environmental and health law. In addition to private practice, there are a number of government jobs available for lawyers. These include public defenders, who represent criminal defendants who cannot afford attorneys. Probation officers screen applicants for pretrial release and monitor convicted offenders who are released on probation. Court reporters record and publish transcripts of all trials. The word “law” comes from the Latin for right or just, and it is a term that has long been associated with ethical conduct. The concept of the rule of law is rooted in ancient Greek philosophy and has become an integral part of most modern societies.