The Basics of Law


The law is a set of rules enforced through social or governmental institutions to control behavior. It may be created by legislative action resulting in statutes, by executive decrees and regulations, or through the precedent established by judges, as in common law jurisdictions. The law is also a branch of knowledge studied by lawyers and other professionals.

The most important goals of law are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect liberties and rights. For example, when people disagree over property rights to land, they can turn to the courts for resolution.

To be legally valid, a rule must be consistent with the constitution or other founding documents of a nation or state. The legal system has many components, including a constitution; a code of civil or criminal procedure; statutes; case law; and judicial decisions. Judges’ decisions are binding when they apply the law as it is written and not based on personal bias or other reasons. The decisions of higher courts are considered precedent and must be followed by lower courts unless they have significantly different facts or issues.

In a court of appeals, the decision is made by the entire bench rather than by a smaller group of judges (a quorum). A request to review a trial court’s ruling is an appeal. In the United States, courts of appeals are sometimes referred to as the full bench.