In a nutshell, law is a system of rules that is enforced by social institutions. It shapes society, politics, economics and history. Generally, lawyers and law firms are regulated by governments. However, private individuals can also establish legal contracts and create their own arbitration agreements. Law is the art of justice, and the profession of lawyers is an important part of people’s access to justice.
There are three main types of laws: common law, civil law, and international law. Common law, the oldest and most widespread, is based on judicial decisions. Civil law systems require less judicial elaboration. International law, on the other hand, is a broader term that refers to the rules of supranational organizations.
The concept of “natural law” came from the ancient Greek philosophy of justice. These concepts re-entered mainstream culture through the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Some legal systems today, such as the Israeli law, allow litigants to use religious laws as a basis for a case. Similarly, Islamic Sharia is based on the religious precepts of Islam.
Civil law, in contrast, is a set of rules enforceable by a single or group of legislators, as opposed to the executive branch. Typically, a legislative statute or decree is the basis for a state-enforced law.
In a criminal case, a court prosecutes an individual for committing a crime. Punishments can include community service, fines, and prison. Unlike the case in a family court, which deals with the rights of children, a criminal case involves enforcing public codes of behavior.
A lawyer is someone who has a degree or professional qualification in a specific area of law. The minimum academic requirements to become a lawyer are a bachelor’s degree and a qualifying examination. Higher degrees are often necessary to practice law. Legal experts can be licensed to practice by obtaining a Master of Legal Studies or Doctor of Laws.
Law is typically enforced by governmental agencies, such as the government, courts, and legislatures. A court is an independent regulating body that interprets and applies the rules of the law, and may hear both sides of a controversy. This process of interpreting the law is called the doctrine of precedent.
Traditionally, the common law has been rigid and inflexible. However, there are several ways in which the system has been adapted to meet changing needs and circumstances. For example, in the United States, the Joint Stock Companies Act 1856 allowed for limited liability for investors. Another example is the development of the US Uniform Commercial Code, which codified common law commercial principles.
Other countries also have different forms of law. Israel, for example, allows its citizens to use religious laws to resolve disputes, and has a law that explicitly states that the King is a sovereign. Historically, some countries such as France have had legal systems rooted in religion, such as Islamic law.
International law is a broader term that can include the rules of supranational organizations, as well as private international law. Moreover, it can cover international conflicts between nations, such as the Kyoto Protocol.