Law is the set of rules that a society or government establishes in order to deal with things like crime, business agreements and social relationships. It also refers to the profession of those who work in the field of interpreting and enforcing the law. The term can also be used more broadly to describe the systems of law and how they work, and the study of those systems.
There are a number of distinct forms of law, ranging from criminal law to family law and even the laws of war. There are also a variety of different laws that regulate specific areas of life, such as the law on contracts, property and health care.
The precise nature of the law is a subject of ongoing debate, with many theorists believing that it is possible to define the concept in broad terms, and others insisting on the need for empirical proof before any such definition can be considered definitive. In general, however, it is accepted that the law comprises precepts that are binding on people because they are imposed by an authority with the power to enforce them, and that it limits what people may do in certain ways.
For example, in the United States, there are various kinds of laws that govern everything from employment and taxation to immigration and civil rights. A law can be a statute, a regulation, a case law ruling or an executive order. A statute is an act of the legislature that creates or amends a specific area of law. A regulation is a rule or directive issued by a government agency or another body with the authority to impose the new rule on a particular group of people, such as a corporation. Case law is a decision in an earlier legal case with facts and issues similar to the one under consideration. Some case law is binding, meaning that the court must follow it unless it can be shown to be wrong, and other case law is not binding but can be regarded as influential.
Other important elements of law include the judicial system and a code of ethics for attorneys. The judicial system includes the Supreme Court, the federal courts and state supreme courts. Judges are government officials who decide lawsuits brought before them. Attorneys are the professional people who represent parties in a lawsuit, and they must comply with a strict ethical code. Other governmental employees involved in the legal system include prosecutors, who are responsible for charging people with crimes; public defenders, who are assigned to represent defendants who cannot afford private lawyers; and probation officers, who screen applicants for pretrial release and monitor convicted offenders released under supervision.