What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules regulating people’s interactions with one another. It covers a broad range of subjects, such as contract law (rules governing agreements), property law (rules regarding people’s ownership of tangible things, such as land and buildings) and criminal law (rules governing crimes and punishment).

The study of law is called jurisprudence. Some schools of thought define law more narrowly, focusing on the rules that govern the relationships between men as political equals. Other definitions include the concept of moral law, or natural law, as a set of universal principles based on human nature and the will of God.

A lawyer studies law to learn how to advise clients, defend them in court or prosecute on their behalf. Many law programs include a mix of lectures, group work and presentations, class debates and “mooting sessions” — hands-on legal training in a mock courtroom. Some law programs offer students the chance to combine their studies with a foreign language or a year of work abroad.

The judicial branch of government enforces laws and protects people’s rights. Its officers include judges, prosecutors and public defenders. Judges are usually elected, while prosecutors are hired by the government. A prosecutor can be a civil servant, such as a police chief or state attorney, or an elected official, such as the governor of a state or a member of Congress. Appeals are often heard by panels of judges, but courts may choose to hear certain cases en banc, meaning that all members of the court participate rather than just a quorum of them.

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