Law is the set of rules that governs a society, shaped by custom and tradition. It also shapes politics, economics and history and mediates relations between people in various ways. It serves a variety of purposes, from keeping the peace and maintaining the status quo to preserving individual rights, protecting minorities against majorities and enabling social change in an orderly manner. Some legal systems do better than others at serving these purposes. For example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace but at the expense of its own citizens or oppress minorities (as in Burma and Zimbabwe).
The concept of law is highly contested by scholars and there are many definitions. Roscoe Pound, for example, came up with the idea that law is “a coercive system which provides a framework of social regulation and direction”.
In “common law” legal systems, decisions by courts are acknowledged as “law” on equal footing with statutes adopted through legislative process and regulations issued by executive branch officials. The doctrine of precedent, or stare decisis, is the principle that the decision of a higher court will bind lower courts in similar cases.
Modern lawyers typically achieve distinct professional identity through specific legal procedures (passing a qualifying examination) and have been educated at university level with a degree such as a Bachelor of Laws or a Bachelor of Civil Law. They are regulated by the state and must follow strict professional standards. They can be found in all countries and are governed by national, regional and international laws that dictate their practice.