Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements, social relationships and much more. The word can also refer to the profession of lawyers, judges and others who work in these systems.
There are many different branches of law. Civil law covers disputes between individuals (such as contracts, torts and property), while criminal law deals with offenses against a state or the community itself. Other areas of law include international law, regulating immigration and the right to citizenship and defining people’s rights toward tangible property such as land or houses.
The main purpose of law is to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. Some legal systems accomplish this better than others. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but oppress minorities or opposition. A democracy, by contrast, is more likely to promote social change while preserving individual rights.
Law is complex and consists of many specific concepts, like the “doctrine of precedent” (stare decisis) which means that decisions by higher courts must be followed unless there are significant new facts or issues. It also includes procedures like discovery, the examination of evidence by lawyers before trial and arraignment, the initial court appearance at which accused criminals are told the charges against them. Other terms you might encounter in studying law include the docket, a log of cases heard by the court and en banc, when the full membership of a court sits to hear a case.