Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It serves many purposes, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Law can be formulated and codified through legislative processes, as statutes and regulations, by executive decrees or orders, or by judges through precedent in common law systems. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements that are enforceable in court.
The precise nature of law is contested, with some scholars advocating the existence of an objective “natural” legal system, while others point out that there is no empirical evidence of the existence of universally applicable principles of law. The development of laws has been influenced by many factors, including philosophy, religion, science, politics, economics and history.
Some of the most significant developments in law have occurred in response to societal changes. For example, public utility laws were established to manage the provision of services such as electricity, gas and water. In modern times, private companies have taken over these duties, but still operate under the law.
In addition, many areas of law have emerged to address new social problems. Tort law, for example, compensates people who have been harmed by others – whether as the result of an automobile accident or defamation of character. Crimes that threaten the security of a community are addressed by criminal law.
While there is a clear distinction between civil and common law systems, some of the same concepts are found in both. For example, the “doctrine of precedent” or stare decisis is a principle that states that judges’ decisions in similar cases must be followed without exception, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise or the case involves significantly different facts and issues.
The field of law includes a wide variety of subfields, each with its own terminology and procedures. For instance, criminal law terms include inculpatory evidence and exculpatory evidence, and a witness is called a “witness.” The process of calling witnesses to testify is known as cross-examination.
The practice of law is an important aspect of society. Lawyers are trained to use the law in the service of their clients and are required to maintain a high standard of professional ethics. The legal profession is regulated by state and national law societies. There are several honorifics used to show respect for lawyers, such as Esquire for barristers of greater dignity and Doctor of Law for those with a PhD in law. There are also numerous specialties within the field, such as family law, tax law and bankruptcy law.