What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that a particular community or society recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. This vast and varied subject area is broadly defined and encompasses many different topics. Oxford Reference provides more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries across this broad discipline, from criminal and civil law to property, family, employment and international law. Oxford Reference also addresses many key debates in legal theory.

Among the most fascinating aspects of law are the ways in which it applies to everyday activities. For example, contract law involves the study of agreements that are legally binding, and property law covers rights to land and objects. Criminal and family laws deal with the way that people’s lives are governed, while administrative law covers rules about government processes. Other areas of law are concerned with the environment, canon law and human rights.

Legal systems vary greatly and are influenced by the constitution, written or tacit, of a country, as well as its political ideology, religious beliefs and traditions. A country’s legal philosophy can influence how a state treats its citizens, minorities and the natural environment. Laws can be made by a legislative process and resulting statutes, or interpreted by the executive branch through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent in common law jurisdictions.

The purpose of law is to maintain standards, ensure order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. It is also used to define a country’s borders and the status of its members, as well as to keep track of the changing social and economic environment. Laws can be imposed by a governing power to control behaviour, or they can be self-imposed through an individual’s moral and ethical code.

The study of law is a complex and rewarding career. Lawyers are highly educated and must pass a rigorous set of examinations to become a member of a professional body, or be licensed by a regulating authority such as a bar association or law council. Depending on the nature of their work, lawyers may be given additional titles such as Esquire or Barrister to indicate their status and professional expertise. They can obtain higher academic degrees, such as Master of Laws or Doctor of Laws, which demonstrate their knowledge of the law in more theoretical terms than practical application. Law is a complex and ever-changing field, and it is essential for students and researchers to be aware of new developments in this constantly evolving discipline. Legal articles need to be clear, concise and up-to-date. Those that are not will quickly become outdated, as changes in legislation are implemented and interpreted by courts. Moreover, they need to be accessible to the general public. This means that they should avoid excessive use of technical legal terms, and include glossaries to explain these if necessary. It is also important for authors of legal articles to consider how their writing will be read by non-lawyers, and provide examples, charts and tables where possible.