Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Laws may be made collectively by a legislature, resulting in statutes, decreed by the executive branch of government, or established through the precedent of courts (normally in common law jurisdictions). Individuals can also create legally binding contracts.
Law has many functions, but it serves four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The legal systems of different nations differ, but all are designed to serve one or more of these purposes.
A major goal of law is to establish a standard for acceptable conduct, including criminal and civil laws. This standard is meant to provide guidance for people in their daily lives and to ensure that the police and government do not overreach their authority. Laws may also establish basic property rights, such as who owns a particular piece of land.
In a democratic nation, the law provides a means for citizens to have their complaints addressed and disputes resolved in a fair and impartial manner. In the United States, for example, the constitution guarantees a defendant that they will receive a trial before an impartial judge and jury. This principle of equality under the law is a fundamental tenet of democracy and a fundamental objective of the American legal system.
The laws of the land govern a country’s social and economic relations with other nations. This area of law includes trade agreements, foreign investment and a wide range of regulatory decisions. Another area of international law concerns the law of space, including issues related to manned and unmanned space flight, satellites and outer space commerce.
Although law is a complex subject, it can be broadly divided into several areas: constitutional law, criminal law and administrative law. The law of contracts covers such topics as commercial transactions and real estate. Administrative law deals with the way governments and other public institutions operate.
Legal theory has long been concerned with the ways in which law is interpreted and applied. Theorists have developed a wide variety of approaches to legal interpretation, but they all focus on the ways in which the content of law is determined by more basic facts. For a theorist to be correct, his or her method of interpretation must accurately identify those facts.