What Is Law?

Law is the set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior and punish wrongdoers. It is distinct from other kinds of knowledge, such as empirical science (as the law of gravity) or even sociology or economics, in that its normative statements are not descriptive but prescriptive: they prescribe how people ought to behave, or what they must do if they want to be treated fairly.

Generally, laws are made and enforced by government agencies, which may include the courts. The law defines the rights and obligations of a community, with respect to property, relationships, contracts, and criminal activity. It also defines what is permitted and prohibited in a particular situation, and provides sanctions for violations of those restrictions.

There are many different types of law. Tort law regulates compensation for injuries to people or their property, contract law defines agreements between individuals, and property law defines rights and duties toward tangible personal property – such as houses and cars – and intangible assets such as bank accounts and stock shares. Offenses against the state are dealt with in criminal law, and civil rights and liberties are protected by constitutional law.

The legal profession is one of the world’s oldest and most complex, with its own vocabulary and terminology. Some of the more important terms include: