Law is the system of rules a society develops in order to deal with criminal activity, business agreements, family relationships and other social issues. It is a large field, and it can be divided into numerous subfields. Some branches of law address specific situations, such as labor laws covering employment and wages or tax laws regulating the amount of money a person has to pay in taxes. Other branches of law are more abstract, such as international law or constitutional law.
Law can also refer to the profession of being a lawyer or judge, or to a particular school of legal thought. One school of law, jurisprudence, focuses on analyzing and understanding how law works in the real world, and it is the basis for many of the decisions judges and lawyers make. Another school of law, legal theory, tries to establish an ideal of justice that law should conform to. Max Weber, for example, reshaped thinking on the limits of state power and the role of laws to match the realities of modern military and police forces and bureaucratic power over people’s daily lives in ways that Locke and Montesquieu could not have imagined.
The basic types of law are civil and criminal. Civil law deals with disputes between individuals, such as personal injury from car accidents or libel and slander. Criminal law addresses violations of a public interest, such as theft and murder. Criminal law is also about punishments for breaking the law and includes the death penalty.
There are many different types of law, and some fields of law are very complex and require years of study to understand. Other areas of law, like international law or constitutional law, have been much less well-developed and are based on general principles rather than on extensive research into specific situations.
Other types of law include contract law, which regulates the exchange of goods and services, property law, which defines people’s rights to their homes and possessions, and commercial law, which includes laws about contracts, partnership, corporations and trade. Company law grew from the law of trusts, on the principle that owners of companies have limited liability for their shares and investments, and the modern law of insolvency and bankruptcy has its roots in the medieval Lex Mercatoria. Law is the governing force in our everyday lives, and it shapes politics, economics, history, and culture in numerous ways. It is important to understand how it works and why it is the way it is, if we are to defend our rights and achieve justice in a complex world.