The law is a set of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise nature is subject to ongoing debate, but the core functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order and resolving disputes. The law influences politics, economics and history in a myriad of ways and raises important issues about equality and fairness.

There are many different types of laws, but the field can be broadly divided into civil and criminal law. Civil law deals with lawsuits (disputes) between individuals or organizations. Criminal law deals with conduct that threatens the stability of a society or violates a person’s rights. Civil laws may be established by a collective legislature in a civil law jurisdiction, or they may be made by individual legislators in a legislative system or by judges in a common law system through precedent. Religion also plays a role in the development of some laws, particularly in religious systems.

Each of these broad categories has several sub-disciplines. For example, contract law covers agreements that exchange goods or services, while property law sets out people’s rights and duties toward tangible objects, such as land and buildings. Tax law covers the taxation of businesses and individuals. Banking law covers financial regulations that help to prevent economic crises such as the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Space law addresses legal questions related to human activities in outer space.

In addition, there are a host of specific legal terms that are useful to know in order to understand the law. Some of these are:

appeal – A request, usually from either the plaintiff or the defendant, for another court to review the decision in a trial and decide whether the procedure was proper. A person who makes an appeal is called an appellant.

arraignment – A court proceeding in which a suspect is brought before the judge and told of charges against him or her and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

discovery – The examination, before a trial, of facts and documents in the possession of the opponents to help lawyers prepare their cases.

injunction – A temporary order preventing someone from doing something that is likely to cause irreparable harm until a hearing can be held.

testimony – A person’s words spoken or written in a court proceeding, such as a trial or grand jury testimony.

A career in law can be an exciting and rewarding one, but it’s not without its challenges. There are many different fields within law, and deciding which is right for you depends on your interests and abilities. A good starting point is to consider your passions, what you believe in and what you want to accomplish. Then, find a way to connect your passions and your skills to a satisfying legal career. Then, you can make your mark in the world and be proud of what you do. Good luck! —Joseph M. Foust, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Atlanta and author of the blog, The Law Review.