What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that regulates the conduct of a community. It is typically enforced by a controlling authority through penalties. Many countries, including the United States, employ a common law system that relies on decisions made by judges of cases that have come before them. In contrast, other countries, such as Japan, employ a civil law system that relies on statutes (or codes) that explicitly specify the rules that judges must follow in order to reach a decision.

The precise nature of law has been a subject of long-running debate. Some see it as a set of social and governmental institutions that govern human behavior, whereas others view it more broadly as an idea or philosophy. In general, however, laws are intended to (1) keep the peace and maintain the status quo, (2) promote social justice, (3) ensure the rights of minorities against majorities, (4) provide for orderly social change, and (5) protect individual freedoms. In addition, it is often believed that law should be (1) transparent and accessible and (2) impartial and equitable. Transparency and accessibility require that laws be clearly drafted and publicly promulgated, while impartiality and equity require that legal institutions and procedures are available to all and treat everyone fairly.

Law can be found in all areas of society. The laws of physics, for example, apply to all matter in the universe. A court of law is a legal institution that hears disputes between individuals or companies. The laws of the country where a person lives are the laws that govern his or her actions and activities.

A law school is a higher education institution that provides a comprehensive curriculum focused on the study of law. The law school experience is intended to prepare a student for a successful career as a lawyer. Students will learn how to research, write, read and analyze cases, statutes, treatises and other secondary sources of law. They will also learn how to interpret the law in a practical way, applying it to real-life situations and problems.

There are a number of different types of law schools. Some focus on particular fields of the law, such as criminal law or business law. Other law schools are more broad in their approach to the study of law, and offer a wide range of courses. The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, for example, offers a program that prepares students for careers in all fields of the law. Its law school also features a comprehensive website that organizes free legal research resources. Its DRAGNET tool is especially helpful in conducting legal research because it allows users to search a group of free legal research websites, search engines and databases at once. This saves time and reduces confusion. A legal encyclopedia is a useful tool for researching new laws and case studies of previous court decisions. These are usually published by legal publishers and are often cited in court decisions and in textbooks.