Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. These laws may be devised by the collective legislature, resulting in statutes, enacted by executive order or decree, or established by judges through precedent, normally under common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts and agreements enforceable by the courts.
In a democratic society, the law is supposed to serve a number of fundamental purposes, including keeping the peace and maintaining status quo, protecting individual rights, providing social justice, and encouraging orderly social change. Some legal systems are better at meeting these objectives than others. For example, a government that rules with an authoritarian style may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it can also oppress minorities or its political opponents. A nation that imposes itself on other countries through colonialism may also keep the peace but may not protect minority rights or promote social justice.
The law is difficult to describe because of its inherent subjectivity. It is not a scientific rule like the law of gravity; instead, it is a system of guidelines that reflects the moral and ethical beliefs of a group or society. The existence of a law does not depend on empirical evidence; rather, its existence depends on the mental operations of humans.
The nature of the law is further complicated by its normative character. As a result, the study of the law requires an understanding of ethics and values. The study of the law also requires an ability to distinguish between a law that is “right” or “wrong.”
Legal terms and vocabulary are often unfamiliar to people outside the legal profession. Some of the more common legal terms include:
appeal – A request to have another court review a decision made by a lower court or tribunal.
arraignment – The initial court hearing where the defendant is brought into court to be informed of charges against him or her.
crime – A violation of a public or private duty, such as theft, fraud, or homicide.
conviction – A determination by a jury that the defendant has committed the crime alleged.
jury – A group of lay people chosen by the judge to decide on whether or not the defendant is guilty of the crime.
law firm – A business that specializes in representing clients on a fee basis.
plaintiff – The person who initiates the lawsuit, or complaint.
defense attorney – A lawyer who represents a defendant in a criminal or civil case.
verdict – The decision of a jury or the judge in a criminal or civil trial.
The field of law is richly complex and challenging to understand, but it can be rewarding for those who are interested in a career in the field. Many different careers are available in the field, ranging from advising clients about their legal options to defending them in court.
A career in the legal field is an exciting and lucrative option for anyone with the proper qualifications. The skills learned through a law degree are transferable to a variety of fields, from business to medicine and even science.