Law is a system of rules that regulates the behavior of members of a society or group. It is enforced by a controlling authority through penalties or other sanctions. It serves several functions, including establishing standards, maintaining order, and resolving conflicts. It is also used to identify the rights and duties of individuals, groups, and organizations. Laws may be created by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through case law. Private individuals may also create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.
Law encompasses many different fields of study, each with its own terminology and specific methods. For example, contracts law defines people’s rights and obligations regarding agreements to exchange goods or services. Property law defines people’s rights and obligations regarding tangible property, including land and buildings, while tort law establishes compensation for harms done to a person or their possessions. Criminal law establishes punishments for offenses committed against the state or its agents, while family and labor law cover issues such as divorce and child custody.
Many laws begin as ideas proposed by a representative, who writes a bill and presents it to his or her colleagues for debate and voting. If the bill passes, it is sent to the Senate, where it is assigned to a committee for study. If the Senate version of the law differs from the House version, a conference committee makes any necessary changes. If the conference committee is successful, a bill is returned to both houses for final approval.
When a law is passed by both houses, the President signs it into effect. The law then becomes a federal statute. Federal statutes usually direct federal agencies to take certain actions, such as establishing or ending programs. The agency managers then determine how to carry out the directives of a statute, which is called implementing the law. Some laws also contain checks and balances, such as provisions requiring the consent of Congress or the president before a law can be implemented, or establishing that only certain types of decisions can be made by an agency. Other laws, such as those addressing the war on terror, are global in scope and affect all states and their citizens. This is sometimes referred to as international law. Some law professors specialize in particular fields of the law, such as administrative law or environmental law. Others focus on the legal system itself, such as law and society or the constitutional foundations of the legal profession. Some also work in the governmental sector, such as serving as a judge or attorney general. These areas of the field are sometimes referred to as public law.