What Is Law?
Law is a system of rules and regulations enforced by the state to control behavior. It includes the system of criminal and civil laws, as well as the broader concept of legality that refers to the status of something as legally valid. Law is the basis of many fields, including jurisprudence (the study of law), legal research, and legal ethics.
Laws can be defined broadly or narrowly. A broad definition is “a body of principles recognized and enforced by a sovereign or state in the administration of justice.” A narrower definition, as used by jurists, is “a set of normative propositions prescribing what people ought to do”. Jurists have different opinions about the nature and purpose of law.
Almost everyone agrees that law is a tool for the purpose of securing social justice. Laws regulate all areas of human activity and protect individual rights. Criminal laws punish conduct deemed harmful to society and civil laws resolve disputes between individuals and entities. In addition, there is a large body of law that addresses the relationships between governments and their citizens. These issues can be grouped into areas such as administrative law, international law, constitutional law, and family law.
The study of law provides a wealth of information to lawyers and nonlawyers alike. It is a source of scholarly inquiry into such topics as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It raises important questions of equality, fairness and justice. A good understanding of laws can help people make informed choices about their lives, as well as enable businesses and government agencies to plan ahead for future changes in the legal environment.
A lawyer’s job is to interpret and construe laws in the context of a particular situation. When interpreting a statute, attorneys are guided by the Latin maxim, “Ex toto materia emerit res dicta”, which means that every word in a statute should be read as if it were part of the whole subject matter. In addition, attorneys are required to give meaning to the terms in a statute even if they appear confusing or vague.
An enormous amount of work, discussion, debate and compromise goes into the passage of a law. The result is an extensive collection of bills, resolutions, hearings, committee and conference reports and other legislative documents known as Congressional history. This historical record is one of the tools used by judges to determine Congressional intent when interpreting laws. This is a very complex task, and the outcome can have wide-ranging impacts on all citizens. For example, it may be necessary to change the way tax laws are interpreted in light of an economic crisis. In other cases, the interpretation of a law may have implications for civil rights or other sensitive social issues. Therefore, a thorough knowledge of legislative history is an important skill for a successful lawyer.