Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of ongoing debate, with many books and articles written on the subject.
The field of law is vast, encompassing everything from the regulation of businesses and utilities (like electricity, water and gas) to the legal aspects of war. The study of law also encompasses complex ideas and questions concerning equality, fairness, and justice.
Generally speaking, there are four major branches of law: contract law, property law, criminal law, and civil law. Contract law governs agreements between individuals to exchange goods or services, including anything from a bus ticket to the trading of options on a derivatives market. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible assets, such as land and buildings, or intangible ones, like bank accounts and shares of stock. Criminal law addresses conduct that is deemed harmful to society, while civil law provides for the resolution of lawsuits between private individuals or entities.
The law is enacted through either a collective legislative process, resulting in statutes, by the executive branch through decrees and regulations, or through the “doctrine of precedent,” in common law jurisdictions, where judges’ decisions are binding on lower courts and future judges. Regardless of how the law is made, it must be clear and understandable to the general public for it to be effective. This is especially important when it comes to core human and procedural rights, such as the right to a free press or the right not to be discriminated against.