The law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition has been the subject of longstanding debate. Some have described it as an art, others as a science or as natural law. Its fundamental purpose is to promote the safety and welfare of humans and their property, as well as to provide for orderly social change.
Legal systems differ in the ways they achieve this objective and in their underlying ideologies, cultural traditions and social values. The structure of a state and the way its political parties or other power-sharing arrangements are arranged also influence the nature of its laws. Historically, law was used to maintain peace, preserve the status quo and protect minorities against majorities (i.e. colonialism). More recently, it has been used to keep order, provide for economic development, promote social justice and ensure the security of individuals.
Law encompasses a vast number of subjects. It is often broken down into three main areas:
Civil law, based on the principles of Romano-Germanic law, covers about 60% of the world’s population. It is characterized by concepts, categories and rules that are broadly standardized, although they are supplemented or modified by local custom and culture. Common civil laws include the right to a fair trial, the protection of private property and the right to privacy.
Criminal law is a system of rules that defines what conduct is punishable by a government and how cases should be heard. The system of criminal law varies considerably between states and the federal government, with each legislating its own statutes. For example, a state might designate certain conduct as criminal, while the federal government might punish this same activity under a different name in a different statute.
The study of law can be an exciting and rewarding career. Many people want to become lawyers, who are able to help clients solve problems and obtain justice. Lawyers are regulated by either the state or an independent governing body such as a bar association, bar council or law society, and must meet specific qualifications. These may include a certain level of academic qualification (such as a Bachelor of Laws or a Bachelor of Civil Law), successful completion of a professional training course and admission to the bar.
Other subjects of law include labour law, which addresses the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, employee and trade union; environmental law; and intellectual property law, which governs the ownership of ideas and creations. In addition, tax law imposes regulations on value added tax and corporate taxes; banking law covers the standards banks must satisfy; and evidence law determines which materials are admissible in court. These subjects intertwine and overlap with each other, and are further subdivided into the various fields of specialization. The study of law is a complex and multifaceted discipline, which can be very rewarding for those who choose to pursue it as a career.