What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules enforced by government that form a framework for a peaceful society. It’s also been called an art of justice and a science, though precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate.

A simple understanding of law is that it is a system of rules that must be followed, often with punishments for those who don’t follow them. For example, most places have laws against stealing, and breaking those laws can result in fines or even jail time. The law is usually created by a group of people, known as a legislature, and then enacted into a legal document, such as a statute or treaty. This document then sets out the rules for a specific geographic area. This document is then upheld by a court or other governing body, known as a judiciary.

Some thinkers have reshaped thinking on the nature of law, with many different approaches to the concept. Roscoe Pound, for example, argued that the purpose of law is to control social behavior. He also characterized it as coercive and, therefore, a means of social engineering. Hans Kelsen, on the other hand, believed that the law is a normative science, which describes what should occur.

Law is an essential part of any modern society, and it impacts politics, economics, history and society in numerous ways. It can be seen in areas as varied as immigration law, which regulates the rights of citizens to live and work in a country other than their own; family law, which deals with marriage and divorce proceedings; contract law, which governs agreements between private parties and the rights of those involved; property law, which defines people’s rights to and duties toward tangible assets like land; and tort law, which covers injuries to people and property.

Other important aspects of law are the judicial system and its role in protecting core human, procedural and property rights, as well as in determining what should be regarded as criminal or civil wrongdoing. A constitutional framework and the rules that make it up are a key aspect of law, as are checks on power, such as free and independent media and democratic elections.

Law is widely studied, and there are numerous books on the subject. One of the most respected is The Harvard Journal on Legislation, which is edited and published by students and features articles written by scholars, members of Congress, practitioners, and others. The journal explores a broad range of legislative topics, including affirmative action, capital punishment, and terrorism legislation. The journal is available online. Other student-edited legal journals include the University of Pennsylvania Law Review and the Stanford Journal of Law & Society. Some scholarly law publications are produced by academics and other experts in their field, such as The American Journal of International Law. Some are produced by law firms, including the prestigious Yale Law Journal and the University of Michigan Journal of Legal Studies. Others are authored by non-lawyers, such as scientists or economists.