What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that a society or country recognizes as regulating its members’ behavior. It may involve anything from the rules that govern an organization, such as employment or tax laws, to constitutional law or criminal law. It may also include the laws that determine a person’s rights in relation to others and to property.

Lawmaking can be done by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive branch of government through decrees and regulations; or by judges through precedent, especially in common law jurisdictions. Individuals may also create legally binding contracts. Laws can also be interpreted by courts, often with the help of legal experts known as attorneys or jurists.

While the precise definition of law is subject to debate, many definitions include concepts like order, fairness, justice, or morality. For example, John Austin defined law as the “aggregate set of commandments, backed by threats of sanctions, from a sovereign to men, as political subjects.” Other thinkers have focused on the role that law plays in social control, such as Roscoe Pound, who argued that law is predominately coercive and that its power is absolute.

An important feature of law is that it must be universally understood and applied, even if the governing body changes. This is important for peace, stability and security. It is also necessary for the preservation of core human and procedural rights, such as free speech and a fair trial.