Law reflects and shapes society, politics, economics, history and culture in many ways. It provides people with a mechanism for conflict resolution, protects personal freedom, secures property and ensures fair treatment by the state. It is also a tool to achieve social justice and provide for the orderly evolution of society. Some legal systems serve these goals more effectively than others. An authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but it can also oppress minorities or political opponents. A democracy, meanwhile, is more likely to promote social change and safeguard individual rights. In the modern world, the extension of state power into everyday lives poses new challenges for accountability that Max Weber and earlier writers could not have anticipated. The study of law can be a useful way to understand how these challenges are being met and overcome.
While the study of law encompasses a broad range of subjects, there are three main categories: civil law, criminal law and common law. Civil law includes contract law, which deals with the exchange of goods and services, family law and a variety of other issues that affect people’s daily lives. Criminal law covers criminal acts, such as murder and terrorism. Common law consists of laws passed by legislatures and regulations issued by the executive branch. Common law is based on the “doctrine of precedent” which means that decisions by higher courts bind lower courts and future judges.
There are countless branches of law that can be explored. For example, space law addresses the use of Earth orbit and outer space by human beings, tax law covers the way a country collects and distributes its wealth and banking law sets standards for the amount of capital banks must have. There is also the law of evidence, which covers which materials are admissible in court for a case to be built.
As with any subject, there is lively debate about how the field of law should be studied and what its deeper dimensions are. One debate centres on whether judges should be free to express their own views and opinions, rather than simply apply the law as they see it. Another debate revolves around the degree to which lawyers should try and avoid bias, prejudice or partisanship in their work.
The law is a complex and fascinating subject to study. It is an essential part of our modern world and its study can be a rewarding and exciting career. However, there are a number of things to bear in mind before embarking on a law degree: