Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. A legal system may include a body of written laws or a collection of custom and judicial decisions. The term can also refer to a profession that advises and represents people before a court or tribunal.
The concept of law raises complex issues concerning equality, fairness and justice that provide a rich source of scholarly inquiry. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways. Laws govern many aspects of our daily lives and the laws are constantly changing as the world around us changes.
Contract law regulates the exchange of goods or services and includes everything from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property such as land and buildings and intangible property such as bank accounts and shares of stock. Criminal law sets standards for conduct considered harmful to society and is the source of punishments such as fines and imprisonment.
Legal theory is the study of law and the methods by which it is created, enforced and interpreted. The field is dominated by various schools of thought, each with its own distinct philosophical basis. These schools of thought are sometimes grouped into general categories, such as realist, liberal, and sociological.
The realist school argues that law is a product of the social habitat and consists of what Savigny calls a “quiet growth of custom.” This school of thought has been criticized for its moralizing and theological orientation.
Those who follow the liberal school believe that law is a reflection of the values and interests of society as a whole. Its creation and enforcement are therefore a political act. The liberal school is often associated with the development of a constitution and the establishment of a rule-based constitutional republic.
A third school of thought, the sociological, views law as an instrument for societal progress. Its function is to satisfy social needs by establishing rules that are both clear and enforceable. The theory was introduced in the middle of the nineteenth century. Its main proponent was K. Llewellyn.
The neo-realist school of thought is a reaction to the moralizing and theological orientation of the sociological school. It argues that law is an instrument for the regulation of human behaviour and that it is necessary to achieve a social good. It argues that the best way to do this is by providing a framework of rules for the judiciary to work within. This allows the judicary to adjust rules to new social conditions through interpretation and creative jurisprudence. Its key concepts are: