What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created and enforced by governmental institutions in order to regulate behavior and promote social stability. The precise nature of law remains a matter of debate, with some describing it as a form of philosophy, others as an empirical science and yet others as a branch of social justice. Law operates to harmonize conflicting groups in society and provides the machinery for dispute settlement.

Law encompasses a broad range of topics, from criminal law and torts to public and administrative law and contracts. The study of law requires a great deal of knowledge and understanding of the specific details of legislation, case law and general principles. It also demands a broader view of how different areas of law interlock and what they (aim to) achieve. This is shown most clearly in problem questions, which ask students to apply the law to very specific and often quite preposterous factual patterns and explain why in this particular set of circumstances a piece of legislation or principle of law would/could be applied in that way.

The purpose of laws varies with the type of societal system, but in general they serve to (1) keep the peace and maintain the status quo, (2) preserve the rights of individuals, (3) protect minorities against majorities, (4) promote social justice, and (5) provide an ordered means for orderly social change. Laws vary from place to place, and some legal systems are more effective than others in achieving these goals.

One of the problems with law is that it lacks the checks and balances available in empirical or social science fields, where there are methods for checking the validity of authoritative statements. Consequently, there is a risk that law may be misinterpreted or applied incorrectly.

Another problem is that there are no clear means for defining the term “law.” The word is used to mean many different things, and this confusion can lead to misjudgment. For example, a judge might say that a statute is unconstitutional because it is vague, but a lawyer might argue that the same statute is perfectly constitutional because it is clear.

The complexities of the field make studying law a difficult endeavor. A law degree requires a high level of analytical thinking and complex problem-solving skills. It also requires a deep understanding of many different subject areas, from public administration to international law. In addition, a law degree often involves lengthy research in order to understand the background to and context of a case. This can be very time consuming, particularly when there are multiple competing arguments and evidence. This can be especially problematic in cases involving historical or international issues. For these reasons, law is often a highly competitive field of study. Many top universities require applicants to take a wide variety of examinations in order to get into their graduate programs. Some of these exams are traditional, such as the LSAT, while others are newer, such as the GMAT.