Law is a body of rules and principles that governs human behavior. The principal purposes of the law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberty and rights. The way in which the law is conceived and enforced differs widely from one nation to the next. It is often seen as a source of morality and social justice, yet it can be highly controversial in practice. It is also the subject of a wide range of scholarly inquiry, from legal history to philosophy to economic analysis and sociology.
In a primarily legislative system, the judiciary interprets the law and adjusts it to accommodate new needs and changes in society. A system of this type allows for greater consistency and predictability, but it may lack flexibility or adaptability to unique local conditions.
A primarily judicial system places greater emphasis on precedent, or the practice of following past decisions in future cases. However, this approach can be abused and lead to unjust results. In addition, it can result in a reliance on outdated or biased prior rulings which continue to shape court interpretations until societal change prompts the relevant judicial body to overturn them.
In the largely litigious Western world, the law is often perceived as a means of controlling and regulating behaviour in an attempt to achieve certain social goals. Some of the most contentious issues in legal debate concern equality, fairness and the distribution of power between government and private citizens.
The law is often divided into three broad categories: labour law, criminal law and civil law. Labour law involves the tripartite relationship between employer, worker and trade union; it includes regulation of wages and conditions of employment as well as collective and individual rights such as the right to strike. Criminal law deals with the punishment of those who commit crimes against the state or other individuals. Civil law covers the resolution of legal disputes between two or more parties, including the recognition of property ownership and marriage.
Law is a vast and complex subject. It encompasses many disciplines and fields of study, from the science of physics to the philosophy of language. The legal profession is a prestigious and well-respected career, with modern lawyers typically achieving distinct professional identity through specified procedures (such as passing a bar examination) and having a specific academic qualification (usually a Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Civil Law or Juris Doctor degree). International law is an independent system that exists outside the laws of individual nations and is defined by treaties, agreements and customary practices. It is not a formal political institution with its own legislature and executive branch, but it is still a powerful force that shapes global affairs. In fact, many of the major legal systems in use today evolved out of the colonialism of European nations over several centuries. These systems are now widespread around the globe. However, they face significant challenges in governing a diverse and multinational population.