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The law is a set of rules that people are made to follow by the state. Laws are enforced by courts and police. People who don't or won't follow these rules are punished in one way or another. This can include making them pay a fine or, in some cases, sending them to jail. In ancient societies, laws were written by leaders, to set out rules on how people can live, work and do business with each other. Today in most countries, laws are written and voted on by groups of elected politicians in a legislature, such as a parliament or congress. When something follows the law, it is referred to as a legal thing. Something that does not follow the law, or breaks it, is referred to as an illegal thing.

A legal code is a written code of laws that are enforced. This may deal with things like police, courts or judges. A lawyer, jurist or attorney is a professional who studies and argues the rules of law. In the United States, there are two kinds of attorneys - "transactional" attorneys who write contracts and "litigators" who go to court. In the United Kingdom, these professionals are called solicitors and barristers respectively. In Canada, there is no distinction (difference) between solicitors and barristers, but a person must be one or the other, and cannot do both at the same time.

The rule of law is the law which says that government can only legally use its power in a way the government and the people agree on. It limits the powers a government has, as agreed in a country's constitution. The rule of law protects the rights of the people. When leaders enforce the legal code honestly, even on themselves and their friends, this is an example of the rule of law being followed. "The rule of law", wrote the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle in 350 BC, "is better than the rule of any individual." The oldest known code of law was written in 1,750 BC - nearly 4,000 years ago - by an ancient king of Babylon called Hammurabi.