The law is a system of rules that a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. It may be a set of formal rules enacted by a legislature or a collection of judge-made precedents in common law jurisdictions. It can also refer to the department of study dealing with these rules: jurisprudence. It can also be a general term for the group of people who practise the law: lawyers, judges and other judicial personnel.
Law is a complex subject with many different aspects. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways. It is a key mediator of relations between people and governments and it can be seen as providing a framework of justice and fairness. The law is a human construct, and as such it has weaknesses. It can be influenced by cultural, philosophical, ethical and religious beliefs and values. It can also be distorted by political, economic and ideological interests.
One way to understand the law is by looking at its main purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. These four principles have guided law throughout history: The ancient Romans created detailed codes of laws based on Greek philosophy. Later, Roman law was adapted by the judiciary to meet changing social needs. The Dark Ages saw the gradual demise of this specialised legal doctrine, and medieval courts adopted the legal maxims of Roman and Greek law and established the body of common law that is still in use today.
Modern laws have evolved to reflect the complexity of social life, and new areas of law have emerged to address them. For example, the law of contracts enables people to enter into binding contracts with other parties. It can be applied to transactions of almost any kind, from buying a book to trading options on a derivatives market. The law of property covers the ownership and control of tangible objects such as houses or cars, as well as intangible assets like intellectual property or shares. The law of trusts and companies regulates the formation and management of these structures.
The development of the law is driven by a variety of factors. For instance, it is shaped by political and economic considerations, such as the need for competition and efficiency, and by the desire to protect individuals from unfair treatment or from being exploited. It is also influenced by the need to regulate activities such as transport and communications, and the desire to limit the scope for abuse of power and influence. Lastly, the law is influenced by technological developments in the area of computers and communication, such as the internet, which have made it possible for more people to engage with the law from home or work. This has increased the demand for legal services and led to a proliferation of law firms. These firms specialise in a wide range of areas, including criminal law and civil litigation.