Law is the set of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. It may be based on an individual’s conscience, or a collective conscience such as a constitution, written or tacit, and encoded in the rights of citizens, with judicial bodies interpreting these rights in different ways to ensure justice is served. The precise nature of law is a subject of debate and discussion.
In most places there are laws that everyone must follow, and if they break them they can be punished. For example, stealing is illegal in most countries, and the person who steals could be fined or put in jail depending on the severity of the crime and the punishment set out for breaking the law. Laws can be made by a legislature through statutes, or by the executive through decrees and regulations, or by judges through precedent (common law jurisdictions). Private individuals can also create legal contracts that are legally binding, such as contracts for buying and selling goods or services. The legal system is often seen as a key part of democracy and the rule of law, although some people may disagree about the extent to which it protects minorities or promotes equality before the law.
Most states have courts that adjudicate cases and decide criminal, civil and administrative matters. Courts are also essential to maintaining the rule of law by hearing grievances from people who feel they have been unfairly treated by a majority, such as minority groups or those with views that differ from those of the mainstream. The role of the judiciary is not to take sides in a dispute, but to balance the competing interests of all parties and apply the law fairly.
Modern law schools typically have rigorous academic requirements that must be met before a student can be admitted to the bar. Students are required to pass a qualifying examination, and must receive an advanced degree in the field of law, such as a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Law or a Juris Doctor. During their studies, students are taught how to read and interpret legal documents, as well as how to think critically about complex issues of law and how to apply that knowledge in a practical way.
The study of law can lead to a career in the field of law, which is considered a prestigious profession. Lawyers are paid to advise clients about laws, represent them in courts and help them through complicated legal proceedings. Many lawyers use the title “Esquire” to signify their status as a professional lawyer, and some are given the honorific “Doctor of Law” to highlight their legal qualifications. The practice of law is overseen by a government or an independent regulating body, such as a bar association, bar council or law society. In most jurisdictions, it is unlawful to practise law without the proper qualifications.