What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules established by a government that regulates the behavior of its citizens. Law can be created by legislature, resulting in statutes; by the executive branch, through decrees and regulations; or by judges, through precedent, in common law jurisdictions. Law can be applied to a wide range of topics, from criminal and administrative justice to commercial transactions to the rights of parents and children to privacy in a society.

The precise nature of law is subject to ongoing debate. Many writers have described it as the art of justice, a science, and an ideology. The discipline of law has several sub-disciplines, including criminal, family, contract, constitutional, administrative, intellectual property and international law. The law is also the basis of social institutions and communities, such as families, companies and societies, as well as a political foundation for nation-states.

In most modern nation-states, laws are formulated by the government or a national parliament, and enforced by police and courts. The political landscape is different in other places, however, with the military or other powerful groups often taking on a role in making and enforcing laws. This can result in civil wars, revolution and other forms of conflict.

While the laws of a particular country vary, most have common features. They typically include a system of crime and punishment, and an attempt to ensure equality under the law. In the United States, a major pillar of our legal system is the Constitution, which establishes the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

There are a variety of ways that people learn about the law, ranging from high school curricula to online and distance learning courses. Some people pursue a career in the field of law, and others take it up as a hobby or a side interest. The law is a broad and complex subject, so anyone interested in it should expect to spend a lot of time researching and reading about it.

The Oxford Law Encyclopedia contains more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries across this broad subject area, written by trusted experts for researchers at every level. From legal history and methodology to the main areas of law, this reference provides comprehensive coverage of this vast discipline.

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