What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that a nation or community recognizes as binding its members, and the means by which those laws are enforced. A legal system can serve a variety of purposes, such as keeping the peace and maintaining the status quo, protecting minorities from majorities, fostering social justice, or enabling orderly social change. Some legal systems better accomplish these goals than others.

A legal system is also a system of institutions that create and enforce laws. The judicial branch, through interpretive and creative jurisprudence, may evolve the law in ways that legislatures cannot. The evolution of the common law in the United States illustrates this point. The World Justice Project’s definition of the rule of law emphasizes this dynamic: “law is not a static collection of written codes or unchanging precedents, but a continuous process of creation and evolution by judges, through their interpretations of the facts and circumstances of individual cases.”

In a common law legal system, decisions by courts are explicitly acknowledged as law, on equal footing with legislative statutes and executive regulations. The “doctrine of precedent”, or stare decisis, provides that decisions made by higher courts bind lower courts to ensure that future cases reach similar conclusions on the same issue.

The practice of law covers a wide array of topics, and legal writing often assumes specialized vocabulary and jargon. Articles that describe the nature of specific fields of law may use technical language and take a position on controversial changes to legislation. For example, articles on immigration law and nationality law discuss the rights of people to live in a nation-state that is not their own, the right of asylum, and the problem of stateless persons.