What Are the Different Types of Law?

G. Wiesen

While there are many different types of law that can be studied and considered, it is often easiest to group them into two basic categories: public laws and private laws. Public laws are those established by a government to better organize and regulate citizen behavior, which often include criminal laws and constitutional laws. Private laws are those established to help regulate business and private agreements between individuals, usually including tort law and property laws. This is not an official method for organizing the different categories of law, but one easy way to distinguish different types that can then be further categorized.

Constitutional law in the U.S. is based on the Constitution.
Constitutional law in the U.S. is based on the Constitution.

Types of law can be quite general in nature, or very specific, depending on the purpose of categorization. Most of the easiest methods of categorization break laws down into a few basic types. It is often easiest to view them as either private or public laws.

Violators of public law may face arrest.
Violators of public law may face arrest.

Public law often refers to such laws as criminal laws, constitutional laws, and administrative laws. Within these categories are a number of other types of law, such as the different types of criminal laws that can include everything from battery and trespassing to larceny and murder. Constitutional laws are often established to govern the way in which a country’s government operates, as well as laws that govern relationships between different states or provinces. Administrative laws are typically set by various government agencies to better organize what actions those agencies may allow or consider a violation of law.

Private laws are types of law that govern private interactions and business agreements between individuals. These usually include tort laws that typically result in civil actions, such as lawsuits between individuals or businesses rather than criminal charges. Such laws can include everything from personal property laws to copyright and trademark laws, and even contract and negligence laws.

There are also many different types of law that can be organized and categorized based on the geographical area that such laws cover. Maritime or admiralty laws, for example, are laws established to deal with actions in and around bodies of water, while aviation laws govern actions in the air and space. Other subject area laws include: education laws, which can include both public and private laws; entertainment law, which often involves contract and private law; and immigration law. A lawyer typically chooses from these different types of law to specialize in and might practice that type exclusively.

Partners from different countries will have to navigate around immigration laws in order to legally marry.
Partners from different countries will have to navigate around immigration laws in order to legally marry.

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Discussion Comments


What do you need for Criminal Law?


I have a question: what is the difference between laws that forbid things like rape and murder, and laws that for example, says you have to drive on the right side of the road, instead of the left side? Basically the first kind of laws deal with people's inborn sense of what's right and what's wrong, and the second kind that deals with things that people need to be told.


I wasn't clear on exactly what tort law was, so I looked it up and I'll share a little about it.

A tort is an action against someone else that involves some kind of damage to them - it can be physical damage or damage to their reputation, or economic damage. If you are just fooling around with a baseball bat and hit someone and injure them, the injured person can sue you for a negligence tort.

If you write messages on the internet that ruin someone's reputation, you will probably be sued and this is intentional tort. You did it on purpose.


With new innovations being made in our society, the categories and lists of laws is continually being added to.

At one time, many lawyers were general practice and could handle just about any kind of case. Now, it seems that the majority of attorneys specialize in certain area.

Of course, the internet and all the new technology has brought about a whole new set of laws. Laws governing the protection of our environment like disposal of various waste products is ever expanding.

I think we are going to need more and more well trained lawyers to handle all the new laws.


@starrynight - I think digital law might already be a recognized type of law. I know there are several famous laws that have to do with digital media. I think the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is probably the most famous.

This act covers piracy on the Internet, as well as digital copyright. Obviously before the Internet was invented there was no need for a law like this!

Also, I know there are certain laws that cover cyberstalking. Again, this wouldn't have been necessary before the invention of the Internet!


I find it interesting how many different types of law there are. However, I think they're all totally necessary.

There definitely needs to be separate aviation laws, for sure. I'm sure things happen in this sector that aren't covered by other laws.

I'm also anxious to see how some new types of laws might evolve in the future regarding the Internet and other new technologies.

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