Law is the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of members of that society. It is enforceable through a controlling authority and is usually codified as a constitution, statute or treaty. Law is a broad area of study that encompasses many distinct areas of legal practice and philosophy.
Law consists of both written and unwritten rules. The written laws are created by a legislature, resulting in statutes; or by the executive, resulting in decrees and regulations; or by judges, resulting in case law (or common law). Unwritten law may consist of customs, traditions, and unrecognized practices. This unwritten law can be as important to the legal system as the enacted statutes and case laws.
The precise nature of law is a source of ongoing debate. Some philosophers define it as a means of social control, while others see it as an instrument for the promotion of human rights. It is often described as an art or a science. The former view emphasizes the scientific aspect of the law, while the latter focuses on the social and political aspects.
In addition to constitutional, criminal and civil law, there are numerous other branches of law. Labor law covers the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union; consumer law governs a person’s purchase of goods or services; corporate law regulates business transactions; trust law sets the rules for money that people invest in companies; patent law protects inventions; and trademark law identifies which words can be used to market a product.
The purpose of law is to make people comply with social expectations. This is achieved through an institution that enforces a set of rules, which are designed to reflect the values and needs of a particular society. In this way, law provides a common framework for all citizens to live within.
A legal scholar, Roscoe Pound, developed a definition of law that emphasized the social functions of the legal system. He stated that law is “the product of the conflicting pulls of a society’s political, economic and ethical interests, satisfied by means of coercive power.”
Law is often divided into two categories – written and unwritten. Written law includes statutes, case law and contracts. In law schools, students are taught the methodology of legal interpretation. This consists of identifying certain input – for example, the text of the statute or a previous court decision – and determining what output it should produce. The controversy, however, is over which method should be used to get from the input to the output – whether it is to focus on the linguistic meaning of the statute or the overall societal goals that it seeks to promote.