An Overview of Law


Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, and it has been variously described as both a science and an art. Law can be based on a variety of sources, including natural processes (as in the laws of gravity) or human inventions like property contracts and judicial precedent. Its purpose is to order society, with the most important goals being establishing standards, maintaining peace and order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights.

Law may be made by a collective legislature in the form of statutes, decreed by the executive through orders and regulations, or established by judges in the form of case law, especially in common-law jurisdictions. It may also be based on religious doctrine or other sources of morality. There is a great deal of variation among the different legal systems and between the laws of different countries, and this variation provides rich subjects for study by students of law.

This article presents an overview of law as a whole, with introductory articles on the legal profession and legal education, legal history, and legal theory. More detailed articles discuss specific types of law, such as criminal, civil, family, and international law. Additional articles discuss law in relation to other societal institutions, such as government and political parties, and social issues such as the environment and poverty. Other topics include the development of legal doctrine, and the relationship between law and other disciplines, such as philosophy, economics, and sociology.

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