What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that regulates conduct in a society and enforces it through penalties. These rules may be imposed by government or private organizations, and they can deal with everything from traffic accidents to corporate mergers. The term also refers to the professions that practice in this area, such as lawyers and judges.

In general, laws are designed to serve four main purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. The most common goal of law is to keep the peace and maintain social stability, but it can also be used to protect minorities against majorities or to allow for orderly sociological change (e.g., in the case of a country with liberal political asylum policies).

Countries that do not have strong formal justice systems often rely on customary law, which involves longstanding local practices that shape ideas about justice and are generally unique to a culture. Often, these practices are based on oral traditions and do not involve a trial.

Modern law tries to be objective, but the idea that all people receive the same results from an experiment is difficult to achieve in real life. It is even harder to achieve in a judicial system, where bias can be compounded by the fact that a judge’s decisions are likely to shape future rulings until societal changes prompt a judicial body to overturn them. As a result, some scholars suggest that the notion of objectivity in the law is flawed and that it should be replaced by a theory that embraces “observer-participancy,” as advocated by Holmes.