Law is the system of rules and regulations created and enforced by governments to govern society, protect citizens and property and settle disputes. Law defines people’s rights and obligations, regulates business, settles civil and criminal disputes, controls the activities of government, and provides a framework for social change. Some legal systems are more effective than others at fulfilling these functions. For example, authoritarian states may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but may also oppress minorities and political opponents. On the other hand, democratic governments are more likely to promote individual rights and provide for peaceful and orderly social change.
The field of law encompasses numerous sub-disciplines, including contract law (which covers agreements to exchange goods and services) and property law (which determines ownership and responsibilities toward tangible assets). Labor law involves the tripartite relationship between employer, employee and trade union, encompassing collective bargaining and the right to strike. Criminal law deals with the punishment of individuals who violate public or private laws, while tort law compensates people for injuries sustained through negligence or wrongful conduct. Religious law, such as Jewish Halakhah or Islamic Sharia, is explicitly based on religious precepts and is used by some faith communities.
Regulatory bodies set the terms of the law, and their decisions are often codified into laws, statutes or codes. These laws are interpreted by judges and lawyers who apply them to particular situations in the context of current events and social values. Judges may use their own experience and knowledge, or they may refer to previous decisions of the court in arriving at a decision. In a trial, the process of questioning the jury is known as voir dire.
The law is also shaped by other institutions that control society, such as censorship and the police, but it is ultimately up to citizens to follow the laws and uphold the principles of the legal system. People who work in the legal field are called attorneys or solicitors, and they have a variety of career options. Some attorneys specialize in advising clients about the law, while others work as paralegals or clerks. The practice of law is also an increasingly popular career choice for high school and college students. Regardless of which path they choose, many people find their careers are affected by the evolving nature of laws and the ways in which courts interpret them. The law is an ever-changing field that influences and shapes politics, economics, history and society. It is one of the most influential and powerful forces in human civilization.