Law is a collection of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Laws may be created to achieve a variety of goals, including maintaining peace, preserving the status quo, protecting minorities against majorities, or promoting social justice. The precise definition of law is a subject of long-standing debate.
Traditionally, the legal concept of law has been interpreted as an indisputable fact about the world and its forces (as with the laws of physics), or as a rule that imposes its own invariant order on the social fabric (as with the laws of morality). These understandings have a normative dimension, meaning that they tell us how people ought to behave, or what they should not do. This makes them different from normative statements in empirical science (such as the law of gravity) or even in social sciences (such as the law of supply and demand).
In modern legal systems, decisions by courts are referred to as “law” on an equal footing with statutes passed through the legislative process and regulations issued by the executive branch. This arrangement is a consequence of the “doctrine of precedent”, which dictates that past decisions of higher courts bind lower courts, and future cases in the same court. This helps ensure that decisions on similar matters reach consistent results. The judicial decision-making process is often described as adversarial, since lawyers and judges are expected to present their arguments and evidence in a manner that will best persuade the other party.
Laws are communicated in many ways, including written texts, oral tradition, and social and cultural conventions. The language used to describe laws varies widely, but generally includes formal words and phrases and more colloquial expressions such as “you break the law and you’re going to prison.”
Despite these variations, the basic features of law remain unchanged. It is always a set of guidelines to be followed, and it is usually established by a centralized authority such as a king or monarch, a constitution, or an elected legislature. Moreover, the laws of a society are largely derived from its history and culture.
The laws of a society are designed to protect its citizens from each other and from outsiders. In addition, they regulate the conduct of businesses and private citizens in a way that provides safety and stability.
A good example of this is the law against aggressive telemarketing, which protects consumers from unscrupulous sales techniques. Other examples include the law against driving under the influence of alcohol, or the law that requires drivers to wear seatbelts.
To become a lawyer, one must undergo specific training and pass a rigorous exam. They are also required to follow a strict code of professional ethics. Modern lawyers have a distinct professional identity, and are typically overseen by independent regulating bodies such as bar associations, bar councils or law societies. They are also required to hold a university degree (such as a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Civil Law or a Juris Doctor). They are considered experts in the field of law and have a duty to inform their clients on the latest changes in the law.