Law is a huge subject that spans virtually every area of human activity and is at the heart of government, business and everyday life. It has four fundamental purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
There are many different areas of the law, although they can be broadly grouped into three categories: criminal, civil and administrative law. Criminal law covers conduct that is considered harmful to society and that may result in imprisonment or fines. Civil law deals with the resolution of lawsuits (disputes) between individuals or organisations. Administrative law covers the actions of government agencies and departments.
Legal issues are highly complex and there is a lot of debate over them. For example, there are ongoing discussions about whether judges should be allowed to use their own sense of what is right and wrong when deciding cases or if they should be bound by statutes and laws passed into law by parliament. There are also arguments about whether or not there is sufficient transparency and accountability in the justice system to make sure that it is fair and equitable.
The scholarly study of law is rich and varied, covering history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It has the unusual feature of being a normative rather than descriptive or causal discipline. It says how people ought to behave or not behave, what they may or must not require from each other and what they must or must not have access to. This gives it a distinctively different character from empirical science (such as the law of gravity) or social sciences (such as the law of demand and supply in economics).
In common law systems, legal decisions are explicitly acknowledged as “law” on equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and regulations issued by the executive branch. This principle is known as the doctrine of stare decisis, Latin for “to stand by decisions.”
Other parts of law include immigration and nationality law, which concern the rights of foreigners to live and work in a nation-state that is not their own, and the process of becoming or losing citizenship. Labour law covers the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union, involving such issues as collective bargaining and the right to strike. Family law covers marriage, divorce and children’s rights, as well as property and money in the event of a separation. Commercial law includes intellectual property, company and trusts.
A legal career can offer exciting opportunities, but it is important to remember that it will be a demanding profession that requires both hard work and a keen mind. Those who are not prepared to commit to the long hours and intense study needed will probably struggle to succeed. The law is always changing and evolving, so lawyers should be prepared to continually update their knowledge to keep up with the latest changes. They should also be willing to take up new challenges and move away from their comfort zones.