The Basics of Law


Law is a system of rules that defines people’s rights and obligations, regulates their behaviour and ensures that a justice system exists. It influences politics, economics and history in various ways and mediates relations between people.

Traditionally, the main functions of law have been those of establishing standards and maintaining order, resolving disputes, protecting liberties and property and punishing criminals. A legal system may also serve social purposes, such as promoting peace and prosperity or preventing exploitation and abuse of the poor.

The laws of a state are derived from the constitution, written or tacit, and its fundamental principles, bills of rights and basic freedoms. They govern the relationship between the executive, legislature and judiciary and provide a framework for the conduct of the state, and its citizens. Some nations have a codified constitution with a bill of rights, while others, such as the United States and France, have only a written constitution that contains fundamental principles, and the rest of their laws are developed through case law and convention.

Contract law is the study of agreements between individuals, whether for goods or services or for a business transaction. Competition law is the set of rules that businesses must obey to prevent their prices being artificially inflated at the expense of consumers. Consumer law covers everything from regulations on unfair contractual terms to airline baggage insurance policies.

Property law establishes people’s rights and duties toward tangible property (real estate, land and buildings), movable property (things that can be moved) and intangible rights (such as patents, copyrights and intellectual property rights). Land law covers the acquisition, transfer and registration of land, while family and personal property law cover marriage and divorce proceedings, inheritance and tenancy.

Legal ethics are the standards of professional conduct that a lawyer or other legal practitioner must adhere to in the performance of their duties and responsibilities. Legal practice is regulated in most jurisdictions, with lawyers typically needing to be members of a bar association or other independent regulating body.

Throughout the ages, law has evolved in response to the felt necessities of society at that time, the moral and political theories prevalent, and intuitions of public policy – avowed or unconscious – on the part of judges. The result is that today’s law consists of both elements that are ancient, such as the coroners’ courts that have an 800-year history, and those that are very modern, such as electronic court reporting and judges using laptop computers to write legal reports.

It is the job of a lawyer or law student to explore all these aspects of law and develop an appreciation of their importance. This helps a lawyer or law student become an effective member of the community and make the best possible contribution to society. For this reason, studying law should be an exciting and rewarding experience. Law has a lot to offer. It is not for everyone, but those who study it will gain valuable skills that are useful in many different areas of the world.