Law is a wide and diverse area of study. It covers everything from the specific rules of a legal system to its social impact. It includes civil, criminal and administrative law as well as labour, bankruptcy, medical jurisprudence and property laws. It is the foundation for most governmental systems and the source of many social restrictions and prohibitions, including censorship and crime and punishment. It also shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.
The basic definition of law is an agreement to abide by certain rules or guidelines. The most popular view of law is that it is the result of political action. This involves a process of negotiations among political leaders to determine who is to make and enforce the laws. This is a major concern for citizens, as it is often unclear who has the power to create and enforce laws. Throughout the world, there are frequent revolts against existing political-legal authority, and the quest for greater rights for citizens is a consistent theme in modern political life.
Some scholars have attempted to define law using a more scientific approach. For example, Hans Kelsen developed a pure theory of law which defines it as ‘the set of rules that the people agree to abide by.’ Others have focused on the broader social context of law.
In general, the legal profession has tried to impose the ideal of objectivity on itself. However, the real-world complexities of lawmaking make such an objective approach impractical in most situations. The legal system is a complex mix of traditions and societal desires, which must be taken into account in making decisions. Despite the difficulties, there is an ongoing effort to achieve a more holistic perspective on law.
One way to understand the different areas of law is by examining the history of its development. For instance, Roman law was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and developed into an extensive code of detailed rules. This led to a complex system of legal practice which was adapted for changing social conditions. Medieval legal scholars researched Roman law and adapted concepts of a broad range of subjects, including labour law; property and trust law; and evidence law.
Other areas of law include torts, which provide compensation for injury to persons or their property; family and inheritance law; and corporate, maritime and aviation law. A major component of law is legal procedure, which dictates how courts conduct a trial or appeal. These rules are generally determined by precedent – previous court decisions that are similar to the dispute at hand. Usually, these precedents are binding and must be followed unless there is a compelling reason to change the decision or significantly different facts and issues. Some examples of binding precedent are the decisions of district courts, appellate courts and the Supreme Court of the United States.