What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules enforceable through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition has been the subject of long-standing debate. Its four main purposes are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Governments may create and enforce laws through the legislature, resulting in statutes, or they can establish laws through judicial decisions, a process known as common law. In addition, individuals can create their own legally binding contracts.

A court of appeals, for instance, can review and reverse a decision made by a lower court or tribunal if there is sufficient reason. Similarly, an individual can file an appeal to challenge the results of his or her trial. During an appeal, lawyers present briefs (written statements) that explain to the judges why they think their client should win or lose.

Some scholars have argued that the state’s defining feature is its ability to use coercion to establish and enforce a framework of social regulation and direction. But it is important to remember that the societal benefits of law can only be realized when individuals obey them.

It is also worth noting that a number of cultures around the world rely on a system of law that does not divide reality into natural and non-natural/human. For example, the Inuit people in the Arctic have a concept of law that recognizes that all humans are equal before the law. The contrast between this idea of law and the dominant Western definition is as profound as the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound.