Law is the set of rules that a particular community recognizes as binding on its members. These rules are enforced through a controlling authority, which is usually a central government in modern nation-states, but can also be an institution, society, or even an individual. The main functions of law are to keep peace, maintain social stability, preserve the rights of individuals and minorities against majorities, and allow for orderly social change. In practice, this means that the law must ensure that (1) there is clear communication of laws to all people (via a free press) and (2) that a government can be held accountable if it doesn’t serve its citizens well (through an impartial judiciary).
There are numerous views about what constitutes “law,” because legal systems vary greatly. However, most legal systems agree on the importance of a rule called stare decisis, which holds that courts must follow earlier decisions on similar cases. The goal is to make it easier for judges to understand and apply the law, so that it can be applied fairly and predictably to all people in similar circumstances.
The law includes many specialized areas, such as criminal law, property law, and family law. It also covers topics such as labor and employment law, taxation, immigration law, and international law. Law is also an important part of a society’s culture and history. Legal studies is a diverse and rich field that encompasses a wide range of perspectives, from philosophy to sociology to economics.