Law is a set of rules that society creates and enforces to ensure that individuals adhere to the norms that society sets. These can be created by a collective legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive, in the form of decrees and regulations; or by judges through case law and binding precedent. Laws can also be privately made and enforced, such as contracts, or through a private or corporate entity.
The main purposes of law are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. Different countries have different laws that achieve these goals in different ways. For example, an authoritarian country might keep the peace and preserve the status quo but could oppress minorities or prevent social change. In contrast, a democratic country might promote liberal values but could have trouble maintaining peace or upholding the rights of citizens.
Legal systems vary greatly from nation to nation, and the laws of a given nation can be influenced by the shape of the physical world (e.g., the possibility of flying objects hitting buildings), the history of the region and the culture of that nation, as well as by the nature of the people in that region. For instance, an agrarian culture might be more tolerant of violent punishment than a city-based one.
There are a number of branches of law, and each field reflects its own cultural influences as well as the laws of other nations. Contract law, for example, regulates agreements between two or more parties to exchange goods and services, including everything from a bus ticket to an option on a derivatives market. Criminal law deals with the rules and penalties for breaking the state’s laws, such as stealing or murder. Intellectual property law covers a wide range of issues pertaining to ownership, protection and transfer of intangible assets, such as trademarks, copyrights and patents.
Family law, labor and employment law, immigration and nationality law, and tax law are a few of the many other areas of law that deal with specific, real-world circumstances. Some of these fields require a more in-depth knowledge of the law and may include more technical language or take a position on controversial changes to legislation. For example, a lawyer who practices in the area of family law may write articles that critique recent legislative changes to the marriage and divorce processes and the rights of children. This type of article is more commonly found in law journals than in newspapers. For this reason, law journal articles often require a level of education that the average reader of a newspaper cannot easily obtain. For example, a person reading an article in the Harvard Law Review must be able to read the footnotes and understand complex academic arguments. However, these articles are often the best source of information on the changing nature of law. This is especially true in the fields of criminal and tort law, where the rules are constantly changing.