Law is a body of rules that forms a framework for society, ensuring people can live together peacefully. It is enforceable by the state and punishes those who break it. It includes both legal rights, such as the right to compensation, and social duties, such as the requirement to pay taxes. People who advise others on the law, represent them in court, or enforce it are called lawyers. Law is a wide-ranging subject, so there are many different opinions about what it is.
The main purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberty and rights. It is a fundamental part of the political landscape of most nation-states (as they are known in international law). Law is also a vehicle for regulating commerce and managing the financial and energy sectors, as well as providing public services such as water supply. The way law is made and enforced differs widely from place to place, influenced by factors such as who has the military power to make laws, and whether there are checks and balances on government power, such as a free press and an independent judiciary.
A number of theories of law have been developed over the centuries. Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham said that law was “commands, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign to whom the people have a habit of obedience.” Others, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, believed that laws were based on unchanging natural laws of morality.
In modern times, the term law often refers to a specific legal area. Contract law is one example, as it regulates agreements between two or more parties. Banking and finance law is another, as it sets out the rules for money that is invested, such as pension funds or shares in a company. Tort law is a third, as it helps people to claim compensation if they are injured or their property is damaged.
There are also other kinds of law, including intellectual property law, which protects creations such as music and art by a kind of law called copyright; and patent law, which gives inventors the exclusive right to sell their inventions for a limited time. Laws of property, such as trust law and property law, set out the rights people have over their tangible possessions, from land to cars and bank accounts.
Other areas of law include administrative law, which deals with the way companies are run; and regulatory law, which sets out the standards that must be met by private businesses operating public services, such as water supplies. The law is a highly complex and ever-changing field, and there are always new challenges to be faced. However, a core principle of the rule of law is that no individual or group should be above the law, and this has been reinforced by the way the United States Constitution divides powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government. This system is often referred to as the separation of powers, and it prevents any one person from being able to control or influence an entire nation.