What is law? Law is a set of rulesthat apply equally to everyone, describe rights and define responsibilities. Why is law so important? The law ensures that people are treated fairly, rights are protected, and people behave properly.
Civil Law vs. Criminal Law
“What is law?” cannot be answered without first describing the distinction between civil and criminal law. Criminal law governs acts that are illegal and result in arrest and, perhaps, prison; typically, crimes are those acts that are against the morals of a society. Contrarily, civil law regulates conduct to help make it easier for people to get along, i.e., zoning regulations; violations of civil laws may cost money, but do not involve going to jail.
For property the question “what is law?” has two answers.Real property law governs land and things that are fixed to it – like houses and timber; examples include the deed to a home or selling someone the right to cut your timber. Personal property law governs items that can be moved – like jewelry, televisions, cars and intangibles (such as shares of stock). Personal property rights are commonly enforced in a lawsuit, such as might result from a car accident. “Why is law so important?” is answered by noting that the system protecting property ensures disputes and rights are worked out in an orderly fashion, rather than vigilante-style.
Answering the question, “what is law?” for contracts is relatively easy. A contract is any agreement between competent people (meaning sane adults) who agree to act in certain ways. A contract does not need to be written, but it is easier to enforce if it is. There are 5 elements to any valid contract: an offer, an acceptance, the intention by all parties to create a legal obligation, capacity (being competent) and consideration (what each party will give the other in exchange for the other’s promise). “Why is law so important?” is answered with the following: the picky rules for contracts ensure that people are held responsible for their promises, but not burdened unfairly.
“What is law?” with family law covers a wide range of issues including divorce, child support, child custody and visitation, paternity, alimony and adoption. In some states, family law is referred to as domestic relations, and sometimes it strays over into criminal law when there are allegations of abuse and protective orders are issued. “Why is law so important?” is easily answered. The personal nature of the issues in family law often make it necessary for an unbiased, learned person to step in and arbitrate disputes.
For criminal law, “what is law?” is the set of rules that prohibit behaviors that endanger the welfare and safety of other people. Crimes are typically divided into two broad categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are the “little” crimes that may, but usually do not, involve going to prison (although fines are often common); examples of misdemeanors include simple assault, prostitution and petty theft. Felonies are much more serious crimes, like rape, armed robbery and murder. “Why is law so important?” is that the threat of enforcing criminal law helps prevent crime, and enforcing the laws ensures that dangerous people are removed from society.
Shakespeare’s line, “the first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers,” was spoken by a villain who was planning a crime. By answering the questions “what is law and why is it important?” it is demonstrated precisely why people need a system of rules that proscribe conduct and delineate rights, as well as lawyers to enforce them.