What Is Law?


Law is a body of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of long-standing debate. Law is generally considered to encompass a wide range of activities, but the study of law usually refers to the specialized professions that involve advising clients about legal matters, representing individuals in court proceedings, and delivering decisions and punishments.

The principal functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Among these four, the creation (or detraction) of valid legal rights is probably the most important function of law. There are two primary mechanisms by which rights may be created: 1) acts of law that directly bestow rights, and 2) actions which create legal positions and relations that imply the existence of rights (e.g., grants, forfeiture, consent, appointment, last will and testament) or which form contracts (typically involving property transfers and business relationships). Rights that are actively exercised determine what right-holders ought to do (privilege rights and power rights) while those that are passively enjoyed determine what they may do (claim rights and immunity rights) (Hohfeld 1919: 51-57).

An individual who is a member of the legal profession is called a lawyer. The practice of law involves a broad variety of activities including advising clients about legal matters, representing individuals and companies in court proceedings, delivering decisions and punishments, and teaching and researching the law. The practice of law also includes a number of other specialties, such as criminal, civil, international, and family laws.

A person who commits a crime is said to be a criminal. A felony is a serious crime that is punishable by imprisonment. A misdemeanor is a less serious crime that is punishable by fines or community service.

Arraignment – A proceeding in which a defendant is brought into court and told of the charges against him or her. Typically, an accused criminal is asked to plead guilty or not guilty at this time.

Binding precedent – A prior decision by a court that must be followed without compelling reason or significantly different facts and issues. Courts are bound by the decisions of higher-level courts that have authority to review those decisions, such as a district or appellate court.

Brief – A written statement submitted by a lawyer to the judge in a case, explaining why that party should win the case. Often, lawyers submit these to judges before the trial begins.