What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules that governs a society and defines the behavior of its members. It includes a wide range of topics, from criminal and civil law to corporate law, family law, and international law. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in countless ways. It establishes standards and imposes discipline, enforces contracts, resolves disputes, and protects liberties and rights. It can be based on a written or tacit constitution, a legal code, or a judge’s decision based on precedent. Law varies between countries, as do the purposes it serves.

A person who practices law is called a lawyer or jurist, and the area of law in which one specializes is known as their field of law. A person who studies law is called a scholar. The study of law may also encompass history, philosophy, social science, political theory and religious studies.

Some people argue that the understanding of law as nothing more than power backed by threats is a flawed view of its true nature. They point out that tyrannical rulers, for example, often create arbitrary laws and are still able to force people to follow them. However, it is important to note that in a democratically-elected government, people do not feel that they are at the mercy of those who control the law. They are able to vote out those who do not represent their interests, which helps to limit the scope of tyrannical behavior.

The purpose of law is to serve society, and the purpose of a legal system is to provide fairness in the treatment of its citizens. For this reason, legal scholars are often concerned with issues such as the social equality of women and men, the distribution of wealth and power among a country’s population, and the impact of globalization on a nation’s domestic laws.

In addition to addressing these concerns, many lawyers and other law scholars have created theoretical frameworks that help them explain how laws are made and what their effects are. These theories have included the logical framework approach, the natural law theory, and the rule of law.

Oxford Reference offers a comprehensive set of more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on all aspects of Law. From criminal and civil law to international and family law, and from constitutional law to biolaw, our expert authors write in clear, accessible language that is suitable for all levels of reader interest and expertise. This collection is complemented by articles on legal terms, procedures and institutions and by major debates in legal theory. It is essential reading for all researchers in the legal and related fields.