The Study of Law

Law is a vast and complex subject, encompassing everything from how a country makes its laws to the ways in which they are interpreted. It governs the world in which we live and shapes politics, economics, history and society in many other ways. Some nations have centralized legal systems, while others use a mix of religious laws and custom with a statute-based system. The basic function of a government’s legal system is to set out the rules that people must abide by and that are used as a basis for making judgments about conduct and the punishment of wrongdoers.

The study of law encompasses all aspects of the way a system of laws works, and it has become a major field of academic enquiry in its own right, attracting many renowned scholars. It also gives students of other disciplines an insight into the functioning of societies and provides a rich source of material for study in areas such as history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.

In a modern civil law jurisdiction, the decisions of judges are acknowledged as being law and placed on an equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and regulations issued by the executive branch. The principle of stare decisis, which means “to stand by precedent”, is a central part of the law.

Other types of laws include labour law, which covers the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union; criminal law, which sets out punishment for crimes; property law, which relates to ownership of land, buildings and possessions, dividing it into rights in rem (a right to the specific thing itself) and rights in personam (a claim to something that is not tangible but can be proven by evidence), and intellectual property law, which includes patents and copyrights. Other law areas include family law, aviation law and tax law.

Those who practise law are often regarded as professionals in their chosen fields, but they must also be good communicators, excellent problem-solvers and able to cope with the emotional stress of representing clients under pressure in courtrooms. The main principles that all lawyers share are a commitment to justice, fairness and the protection of human rights.

A career in the law can be financially rewarding, but it also requires an analytical mind and a strong stomach for confrontation. For those who are interested in the study of law, there are a number of universities offering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in this subject. Those who have an interest in the field can also develop their skills by writing articles for law journals and websites or by pursuing courses in legal practice. There are also a number of opportunities to work for non-governmental organisations and charities in areas such as asylum, refugee support and charity law. These are particularly relevant at present, when the law is being used to challenge social injustices and protect the interests of vulnerable groups in society. These organisations and individuals can be supported by a range of legal aid schemes, which help those who are unable to afford proper representation.