Law is the system of rules that governs the activities of people and societies. It includes a wide variety of laws that regulate all aspects of life, from employment to social security, crime and immigration.
Law systems vary widely in terms of the concepts, categories and rules that they use to define legal rights and responsibilities, but all contain certain common themes. In the United States, there are three basic types of law: federal, state and local.
In general, a government can create laws through its legislative process and by issuing regulations under the executive branch. Legislative bills are introduced in Congress and may become laws through a process known as enactment. These are arranged by subject in the United States Code, and are sometimes referred to as acts or statutes.
Judicial decisions are regarded as law on an equal basis with legislative and executive statutes. This is called the doctrine of precedent, and it guarantees that future courts will follow similar decisions.
Courts have the power to impose punishment on people who violate their rights. They can issue sentences, such as imprisonment or probation, and impose fines.
Jury trials involve a group of citizens (jurors) who decide whether a person is guilty or not guilty of a particular offense. The jury is usually chosen by a court from a pool of potential jurors.
Trials can be long or short, and are often heard by a judge who sets out the legal evidence for each side. Some cases are resolved through settlements, in which both sides agree to pay a sum of money to settle their differences.
Lawyers are regulated by either a government or an independent regulating body such as a bar association, bar council or law society. The profession typically requires a special qualification, such as a law degree or a doctorate in law.
The practice of law is governed by a number of statutes, including the Bar Standards Act, which determines what qualifications a lawyer must have to practice in England and Wales, and the Legal Practitioners Act, which governs the conduct of lawyers in Scotland. A lawyer may be called an ‘Esquire’, a term indicating that they have risen to a certain level of prominence in the profession.
A solicitor is a lawyer who has been qualified by a set of specified legal procedures to practice in the public interest and defend clients in court. They are constituted in office by legal forms of appointment (being admitted to the bar).
There are many fields within law, but they generally fall into three broad areas: contract, property and criminal. The first two cover agreements relating to the exchange of goods and services, whilst the last covers rights in relation to property, such as land and movable objects.