The Study of Law
Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and acts as a mediator of relations between people. It encompasses a vast array of topics and is characterized by its normative nature. That is, unlike empirical sciences such as physics (as in the law of gravity) or social science such as sociology and history, laws are statements about what people ought to do or not do.
The study of law covers a diverse range of subjects that can be grouped into three broad categories: civil, criminal and administrative. Civil law includes contracts, torts, property and family law, which are areas that regulate the interactions of people in everyday life. Criminal law covers the actions that can be punished by a court, such as murder or tax evasion. Administrative law includes fields such as taxation, labour and environmental regulations.
There are also specialty fields such as international law, competition and consumer law that deal with specific areas of society. Competition law, for instance, deals with antitrust policies governing businesses who attempt to control the market by manipulating prices. Consumer law covers everything from a ban on price discrimination in retail stores to regulations on airline baggage insurance.
The rules of a legal system vary greatly across the world, but can generally be divided into civil law and common law jurisdictions. In civil law systems, legislators write statutes that are explicitly recognized as law on an equal footing with case law based on constitutional provisions. In contrast, in common law jurisdictions, judge-made precedent is accepted as binding law.
Other important considerations are the types of disputes that a law covers. Criminal law focuses on the rights and obligations of people as they interact with one another, while civil rights laws govern how a person can be treated fairly by others, such as in housing, employment or medical jurisprudence.
There are also field of legal studies that focus on the legal process and the administration of justice, such as law and ethics, evidence law (which determines which materials can be admitted in a trial) and law of procedure and conflict of laws. The practice of law is a complex endeavor that requires the ability to analyze facts, think critically and solve problems creatively. In addition to a deep knowledge of the legal system, lawyers must have excellent communication skills. Those who wish to succeed as lawyers must be well educated and must complete rigorous academic pursuits, such as earning a degree from a law school or passing the bar exam. In the United States, a bachelor’s degree is required for most jobs in the legal profession. In addition to coursework, students often earn judicial clerkships in the federal or state courts after graduating to gain valuable experience and build a strong resume. In a judicial clerkship, a student works closely with a judge on cases that are being heard in a particular courtroom. This type of work is invaluable to a future career as an attorney and is often viewed as the first step toward a private law firm or public service job.