Law is the set of rules that govern human behavior and social institutions. It has variously been described as a science or an art of justice. Governments, courts, and private organizations enforce laws. Generally, laws are made by legislators (group or single), the executive (via decrees), or by judges. In addition, private individuals can create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements.
Legal issues arise in all areas of life, including criminal and civil matters. They are often socially contentious, and the public discourse often revolves around controversial issues such as abortion, human and civil rights, immigration, gun control, the death penalty, and privacy. These debates can be about the application of existing regulations or the need for new ones. In general, the court system focuses on determining whether an act is legal and makes recommendations to Congress.
In some cases, laws may not be codified, but may still be used as legal guidelines. In some cultures, religious law is explicit and has its own legal system. Jewish Halakha, Islamic Sharia, and Christian canon law are examples. The use of religion as a source for law implies that God’s words are unalterable, but the detailed legal systems that result are the product of human elaboration. Islamic law, for instance, includes a body of law derived from the Quran. This body of law is further developed by interpretation, reasoning through analogy, and Ijma.
As the law changes rapidly, updating the reference materials that you use in your research is an important part of your practice. The best way to keep up with the latest case, statute, and government regulations is to subscribe to an online law library that includes the latest information. Many county law libraries subscribe to online services, such as Shepard’s Online and KeyCite.