Law is the set of rules that govern behaviour within a society. These rules are created and enforced by a government, which also punishes those who breach the law. Laws are designed to provide stability and equality in societies. Providing people with a clear starting point of knowledge about what is acceptable and what is not, laws enable them to understand what is expected of them in their daily lives. Having fair and effective legal systems also ensures that citizens have access to a judiciary, which will uphold standards of fairness and justice and protect them from corrupt regimes and public institutions.
There are many different opinions about the meaning of law, and these have been reflected in the different legal systems around the world. The definition of law has changed over time as new social and cultural issues have arisen. For example, Max Weber reshaped thinking on the extension of state power, and contemporary military and policing techniques pose particular problems for accountability that earlier writers like Locke or Montesquieu could not have imagined.
Legal studies involve studying the history of these evolving definitions of law, and how they have shaped politics, economics and society at large. Students can also find out about the way that legal decisions are made, and the ways in which they can be challenged. There are numerous career paths for those interested in the law, from becoming a judge to working as a lawyer or paralegal. The latter two roles tend to be more remunerated, but they both require significant study and commitment to the law.
One of the most interesting debates about law involves its role in society. Hans Kelsen, for example, argued that law’s ability to impose sanctions was crucial to its functions in society. This argument was largely refuted by twentieth century legal positivists such as H.L.A Hart and Joseph Raz, who argued that the coercive aspect of law was far more limited than Kelsen had assumed.
The lawmaking process varies from country to country, but generally involves a parliament or assembly passing bills and debating them with other members. A committee will research, discuss and make changes to the bill before it is voted on by the whole parliament or assembly. If the bill is approved, it will become a law and be applied in that jurisdiction.
The legal system is incredibly complex, and studying it requires extensive research skills. The best way to learn more about the law is to shadow a lawyer or volunteer for an internship. This will give you an insight into the day-to-day life of a lawyer and how to work in the field. It will also teach you how the law is influenced by ethics, morality and social norms, and how it can be used to solve problems and promote societal change. In addition to these practical aspects, studying the law can be intellectually stimulating and help you develop your communication skills.