Law is the system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been defined as an instrument of peace, the protection of property and freedom, the prevention and punishment of crimes, and a mediator of relations between individuals. Governments may establish laws through the collective effort of a legislature, resulting in statutes, by decree or regulation, or through court decisions that become binding precedent, as in common law jurisdictions. Individuals can also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements, as well as invoke the rights encoded in a written or unwritten constitution.
The precise definition of law is a subject of long-standing debate. It has been variously described as a science and an art. It is a source of scholarly inquiry in legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It shapes politics, business, culture and society in many ways.
Different legal systems have been developed to serve the law’s four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberty and rights. Some legal systems are centralized and codified, while others leave room for judges to adjust rules based on social change or new situations by way of creative jurisprudence.
Civil laws deal with disputes between individuals and include fields such as torts (accidents) and defamation. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered to be harmful to the public’s welfare, such as murder or robbery. Business law includes regulations around forming, operating and dissolving businesses. And, finally, property law covers people’s rights and duties toward tangible property (such as houses and cars) and intangible property such as copyrights, patents and trademarks.