Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. Its precise definition is subject to debate, but the term usually encompasses both a system of rules and the adherence to that system.
The main purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Law also provides a source of scholarly study, including legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.
Laws may be formal or informal and vary from place to place, as well as at different times in the same country or culture. Formal laws are created by the legislative branch of government (the parliament or other governing body).
Informal laws, such as customs and traditions, are often not written down but are accepted and enforced by the majority of a society, and can be created by the actions of individual individuals. The varying interpretations of informal laws are the basis of judicial decision-making, which is the foundation of legal systems.
Historically, there have been two main types of law: civil and criminal. Civil law deals with disputes between private individuals, whereas criminal law deals with offences against a state or nation. As societal understanding of equality and fairness has evolved, there have been moves towards unification of civil and criminal laws.
Some lawyers specialise in specific areas of the law. These areas include family, commercial and transactional law, as well as criminal, civil and property law. Lawyers are often referred to as barristers or solicitors and some have further earned titles, such as Esquire or Doctor of Law, to denote their professional status.
Laws relating to the family deal with issues such as divorce, separation and custody of children. Commercial and transactional laws cover such areas as contracts, taxation and business. Criminal law focuses on activities that are considered harmful to a society and may result in penalties such as imprisonment or fines.
The study of law is highly complex and covers a wide range of issues. One school of thought, known as the Sociological School, considers law to be a product of society rather than just an instrument of justice.
Another important viewpoint is the Legalist School, which argues that the law is an objective, rational tool for achieving goals such as maintaining peace and security, developing industry and securing property. Its critics, however, argue that the law is a biased system, based on social and cultural factors that can be difficult to change. This school also argues that the law is not as effective in its current form as it could be. The legal profession is constantly undergoing changes, with judges and other court staff being replaced and reforms to the law itself continually under consideration.