What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that governs the behavior of people and organizations, both public and private. It covers topics from criminal laws and property rights to corporate governance and governmental accountability. Law also includes legal procedures and practices, as well as the disciplines and professions that study and apply the body of law.

In modern nations, governments are usually responsible for making and enforcing laws. The legal system is usually organized into courts, executive branch agencies, and legislative branch bodies that are authorized to create laws and interpret laws. Individual countries may have unique variations on the structure of their legal systems, but most modern nation-states have either a common law or civil law system of law.

Historically, the concept of law has evolved along with society. For example, in early modern times, some philosophies developed to explain the origins of law and its purpose. John Austin’s utilitarian theory argued that the law is “commands, backed by threat of sanctions, from a sovereign to whom people have a habit of obedience.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, suggested that the law reflects innate moral principles that are unchanging and enduring.

As the world’s population grows and develops, many countries have created modern legal systems to meet the growing needs of their citizens. In addition to providing protection from crime, the law can provide access to essential services and economic opportunities. For example, consumer law provides a framework for companies to comply with standards that protect consumers from misleading advertising or unfair contracts and clauses. Banking and financial regulations set minimum capital levels that banks must hold and guidelines for best practices in investment.

The most fundamental function of any government is to enforce and uphold the law. This involves ensuring that everyone is subject to the same legal consequences for their actions and that core human, civil, and constitutional rights are protected. To achieve this, the governing body must be competent and impartial. It must respect a free press and the rights of minority groups and individuals to privacy.

Legal systems vary considerably from country to country, as do the structures of political power and the legitimacy of a government. Each year, the aspirations of people for greater democratic control or rights to fair treatment and security are reflected in protests and revolutions against existing political-legal authorities.

The practice of law is an important part of most modern societies, and laws can be complex and confusing. For this reason, FindLaw’s Learn About the Law section provides informative articles that help to explain the basics of various types of laws and how they work. Each section is arranged by area of law to make it easy for you to find the information you need.