Law is a system of rules and principles enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The law may be established by legislative action, resulting in statutes, executive decrees and regulations, or through judicial decisions, resulting in case law. Private individuals can also create contracts and other legal agreements that are binding on all parties. Law is a subject of study in numerous fields and raises questions that are important to a number of disciplines, such as philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.
Law consists of two fundamental parts, natural law and positive law. Natural law, based on principles of right reason and natural justice, prescribes human behavior and is derived from the nature and constitution of man. It consists of universally recognized ethical and moral standards. Positive law, on the other hand, is a body of rules established by human beings through legal processes that apply to all people. It is a result of the exercise of human reason, views of human nature and constitution, as well as divine revelation, and has been sanctioned by the principles of morality.
The laws of a state govern the conduct of its citizens and ensure the protection of their rights. A state’s laws must be publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and must be consistent with international human rights norms and standards. The rule of law is a necessary condition for the achievement of the goals of the United Nations, and includes the following: supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.
A state’s laws may be codified in a written or unwritten constitution, which is the foundation of the legal system. Moreover, a state’s legal system may be influenced by the law of foreign countries and by custom and culture. Law is a vast field and covers all aspects of human society, including business transactions, family law, criminal prosecutions, property rights and judicial procedures.
Generally, law schools provide students with a broad range of courses and opportunities for experiential learning. Students typically take foundation courses such as administrative law, civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, commercial law, corporate law, evidence, family law, property law, torts and taxation. Most law schools also offer specialty or elective courses, and many provide students with an opportunity to participate in externships or clerkships.
In addition, law school student organizations are an important part of the educational experience. Some student groups advocate for specific issues, such as civil rights or women’s rights, while others are focused on promoting greater understanding of particular areas of law. Additionally, many law students serve on the editorial staffs of the profession’s principal scholarly journals, a distinction that is often considered to be a mark of academic excellence.