Defining words and phrases can be difficult. When we created the Peerless Legal dictionary, we aimed for understanding of legal words and phrases by non-lawyers. That didn’t mean we “dumbed down” definitions. Rather, we added clarity by removing legal jargon. We kept thing simple and straightforward.

When we reached to the word “law” it became clear that this was going to require more than an entry in our dictionary. The reason the law is so difficult to define is because it is more an idea that encompasses so much. Adding to the complexity, there is not one universal understanding of what the law is or is not. Instead of forcing a definition that may or may not be helpful, we decided to write this blog entry.

(The law may or may not be dictated by a divine being or set of religious beliefs (depending on your views). My interest is to leave that in the background of the discussion and focus on the law as we understand it in a court of law.)

No matter what you do, who you are, or where you are, the law is engrained in your daily life in some form or another. Despite the law being ensconced in our everyday life, most people have no idea what exactly is “the law.” The very concept can be difficult to grasp. They may recite a law or tell you, “the law is the law.” All of these are incomplete answers - if they are answers at all.

To define what the law is, it is helpful to look at how laws are created, why laws are created, and why laws change over time.

Laws are created by governments to help protect us from one another. In order for us to not live in fear from one another, laws form the basis of a system of trust. Each of us gives up something for this trust, usually that something is limits on their property or liberties.

At one point in time, most laws were created by one person, a king or an emperor. As the march of human societies progressed and societies moved away from such singular models of law making, the law became more complex and able to weather the test of time. Now laws are mostly created by a few with the consent of the masses.

Laws are created to govern over those within its geographic border and those that bear that country’s citizenship. Geographic boundaries help group and protect citizens. Citizenship is given by birth and can only be given up when exchanged for another country’s citizenship. We can be citizens of more than one country, but not free from having a citizenship.

If the law is created by a few with the consent of the masses and the law applies to those within its borders and citizens, then the law is a system that changes over time. Not all aspects change, but there cannot be any aspect that can escape the potential for change. This is the basis of creating a system of laws. What is uniform about the laws is their functionality to protect and punish.

Laws are created to protect/benefit some people and to punish others. The benefits of laws can be for broader security reasons, for example to protect the public from someone who commits a murder. The punishment can be monetary, taking away property, or taking away someone’s liberty. Laws have both the protection/benefit and punishment aspects to them.

Since laws are consented to by the masses to protect/benefit someone while punishing others, then how can the nature of the law change (evolve) over time i.e., wouldn’t the law achieve an apex as a perfect balance of protection/benefit and punishment and stop changing?

The law is constantly changing because there are new inventions and ideas. These new additions need to be governed as a way to protect/benefit people.

Another reason the law changes over time is because at its core the law is opinion. Judges are generally appointed by a political leader or run for elections. Since judges and the representative lawmakers are created by the political process, as public changes, so will the law. In the short term, there are certainly bad laws. In the long term, bad laws cannot escape change. That is true so long as there is a population that agrees the laws are bad. Sometimes the arc of justice is long.

So in short, one definition of the law is that the law is opinion that survives overtime and is created and judged by representatives of the population for the protection/benefit of someone and punishment/detriment of others.



This blog entry was written by Sanket Mistry.

Sanket Mistry, J.D., M.I.A.      Sanket Mistry is the founder and CEO of Peerless Legal and blogs regularly. He has written numerous books including, "25 Estate Planning Forms," "8 Living Trust Forms," "Simple Will Creator," "Give Through a Will & Living Trust," and "Guidance On Creating Your Own Will & Power of Attorney," and the bestselling books in the Legal Self-Help Guide series, "Will, Trust, & Power of Attorney Creator and Estate Records Organizer" and "Estate Planning in Plain-English." He earned his JD from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University and is a member of the New York State Bar. He has worked, and volunteered, at a number of nonprofits, government agencies, and for-profit corporations. He also holds a BA in philosophy from Emory University and a MIA from Columbia University. He is an avid traveler and tennis player.