What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that a society recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. Law shapes politics, economics, history and culture in various ways. It also serves as a mediator of relationships between people. Law is a key subject in the study of philosophy, history, economic analysis and sociology.

The laws of a society are based on the principle that everybody is entitled to equal justice under the law. The law defines the rights and responsibilities of citizens and provides a basis for social stability, development and growth. It ensures that government and private actors are accountable for their actions, and that the distribution of resources and privileges in a society is fair.

A country’s laws are commonly made by a legislature (in countries with bicameral legislatures, each house of the legislative body is split into two bodies, like the Senate and the House in the United States). After a bill is passed through both houses and put into final form, it must be approved by the executive branch to become a law. The executive can choose to sign the law, or veto it by sending it back to the legislature with a message explaining why he or she refuses to approve it. In cases where the executive vetoes a law, it is usually not changed by subsequent legislatures.

Besides governing the distribution of resources and privileges in society, law also covers other aspects of life such as personal and property rights. Family law concerns marriage and divorce proceedings, as well as the right to children. Labour law concerns the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union, and the regulation of collective bargaining. Commercial law regulates contracts, intellectual property and company law.

Law is also a source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, sociology and economics, as it raises issues that are relevant to contemporary problems and debates. It is important for a student of law to understand these issues and debates, as the law is constantly being reshaped by new social and economic realities.