Law is the system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Laws are enforceable through the power of the state, whether in the form of statutes or the executive through decrees and regulations, or through the judiciary through a body of precedent called case law. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements. Law is a vast area of human activity and is the subject of many scholarly studies, including legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.

The most fundamental aspect of law is the idea that a society must adhere to certain rules in order to function and to preserve individual rights. The precise meaning of this idea is the source of much debate, and different theories of law exist.

The field of law is broad and encompasses many different topics, but is generally broken down into three categories: criminal law, civil law, and administrative law. Criminal law deals with conduct that threatens a community’s security and order, and it can be punishable by imprisonment or fines. Civil law addresses lawsuits (disputes) between individuals, and it may involve monetary compensation. Administrative law consists of the many laws that govern a government’s bureaucracy, such as tax laws, employment laws and environmental laws.

These core subjects have numerous sub-topics that can be further broken down into specialized fields such as labour law, intellectual property law and family law. Labour law covers the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, employee and trade unions, while intellectual property law involves the creation and protection of copyrights and trademarks. Family law includes marriage, divorce, custody and adoption and other matters that pertain to the family unit.

A common theme in the study of law is questions surrounding how and why some laws are created and enforced, and what the proper role of law should be in a modern society. In particular, a major debate surrounds how societal values and beliefs determine which laws are deemed important enough to become law, and how that process should be managed.

Legal terms can be confusing, and learning them takes time. Some of the most basic terms include:

arraignment – A court proceeding in which a defendant is brought into court and told about the charges against him or her.

brief – A written statement submitted by a lawyer to the judge(s) of a case that explains to them why that lawyer’s client should win the case.

en banc – A term used to describe court sessions with the entire bench participating rather than just a small group of judges, as is typical in district courts in the United States.

Law is a complex and fascinating discipline that can be very challenging to study. The complexity of the subject is evident in its wide range of specialized fields and its influence on other areas such as politics, economics, philosophy and religion. For example, Max Weber’s work reshaped thinking about political power and its relationship to the law.