What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules a particular community or nation recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. It serves four principal functions: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. The precise nature of law varies greatly from nation to nation.

Some law is explicitly based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha and Islamic Shari’a (the latter being derived through legal methodology including Qiyas, Ijma, and precedent). Others are the result of human elaboration: statutory law (that is, law that has been passed by a legislative body) and common law (which relies on judges’ decisions in specific cases, which are compiled into a code called case law).

Other areas of the law include immigration and nationality law, which determines citizens’ rights to live and work where they choose, and family law, which deals with marriage and divorce proceedings. Civil law covers matters of property and contract, while criminal law identifies offences against the state or local community and provides for their prosecution.

Those who practice the law have a distinct professional identity which is usually established through specified legal procedures (e.g. passing a qualifying examination). Lawyers are usually required to hold a higher academic degree, such as a Master of Legal Studies, Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor, and are governed by laws and codes that regulate their practice. They may also be subject to disciplinary action by their own governing bodies or societies.

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