Law is the set of rules that governs society. It can be a set of written laws or a body of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision. Law is the subject of much scholarly inquiry, including legal history and philosophy; economic analysis; and social and political theory. A career in law is becoming increasingly attractive to young people.
The discipline and profession of law involves advising and representing individuals and companies about legal matters, defending them in court, and making decisions and punishments. The legal system also includes a body of rules and practices that regulates business, such as contracts and taxation.
There are many different kinds of law, ranging from a simple contract to the most complex international treaty. For example, employment law governs the relationship between employees and employers; tort law covers the rights and duties of people who have been harmed in some way, such as car accidents or defamation; property law covers the ownership of tangible goods (real estate, cars, books) and intangible assets (like bank accounts and shares); criminal law deals with conduct considered harmful to society and provides for punishment.
In common law systems, where courts make the law, judges’ decisions are binding on other courts and future judges in the same case. This is called the doctrine of stare decisis. This means that decisions of lower courts are not overturned, but the reasoning behind the decision is used to guide new cases. This is in contrast to civil law systems, where legislatures adopt statutes and executive orders to govern society.
Commercial law, or business law, covers a wide range of topics, such as the purchase and sale of products, the protection of confidential information, the use of animals for research and testing of new drugs, and the rights of workers in relation to their wages and conditions of employment. It also covers the regulation of public utilities, such as energy, water and telecommunications.
A person who practises law is called a lawyer or barrister. The word is derived from the Latin for “to defend,” or “to plead” on behalf of another. Other occupations related to the field of law include actuary, which analyses the risk of insurance; economist; politician; and judge.
The rule of law is a principle that requires the government, private organisations and individual citizens to be subject to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. It also ensures the supremacy of law, equality before the law, participation in decision-making and legal transparency.
Some of the most pressing issues in the world today are those involving the rule of law. For example, human rights violations in countries where the rule of law has been undermined are widespread and alarming. Those involved in the protection of human rights, such as lawyers and non-governmental organisations, must therefore work diligently to protect the rule of law. They must work to ensure that the rights of all are protected, regardless of race, gender, class or religion.