Law is a collection of rules that governs the behaviour of individuals and groups, sets standards for human conduct and settles disputes. It shapes politics, economics and history in many ways, and raises fundamental issues about equality and fairness. The study of Law is therefore central to a wide range of academic disciplines, including legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.
A legal system reflects the values of its society, which are shaped by politics, culture, history and social change. It serves a variety of purposes, including keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, protecting minorities against majorities and enabling social change while preserving core human rights and freedoms. A state ruled by an authoritarian government may achieve some of these goals, but it also risks oppressing its own citizens or undermining democracy. Conversely, a democratic state may find it hard to maintain peace and preserve the status quo in the face of a major economic or political challenge.
The nature of law is complex and unique among other fields of human endeavour. Its normative character, which explains what people should do and what they ought not to do, distinguishes it from statements of fact and causality (such as the law of gravity) or of social science (such as the law of supply and demand). Unlike other kinds of normative statements, laws are largely unchanging over time and they are uniform in all locations (apart from local differences such as language).
The law is divided into several broad areas. Criminal law deals with actions that threaten public order and can result in fines or imprisonment. Civil law concerns lawsuits between private individuals or organizations, and includes tort (damages), contract and property law. Company law deals with the structure and operation of companies and corporations, and traces back to the medieval Lex Mercatoria. Commercial law is a large and varied area, covering commercial contracts, insurance, bills of exchange, insolvency and bankruptcy law and sales law.
The practice of Law is an important and prestigious profession. Lawyers are usually educated at a university or law school, where they receive an LL.B or LLB degree. Other prestigious titles include Esquire, used for lawyers who have been admitted to the bar in a particular jurisdiction, and Doctor of Law, which is given to those with a PhD in Law. The law influences and is influenced by philosophy, history, politics, religion and social science, and the study of it requires a diverse range of skills, including reading and writing extensively, thinking creatively and critically, solving problems analytically, researching thoroughly and communicating effectively. It is an exciting and challenging field to work in, but it is also one that can make a real difference to the lives of individuals and societies. We need the best and brightest minds to contribute to it. We need more diversity in the Law, too – both in terms of background and gender – to ensure that it is reflective of our modern, diverse and global society.