What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate.

Some definitions include the notion of morality, while others focus on practicalities such as cost-benefit analysis. The study of law encompasses the whole range of legal disciplines, from criminology and civil rights to international law and criminal justice. It is an increasingly important field and the study of law offers students a wide range of career options, from advising people about their legal rights to defending criminal cases or acting as a judge.

In the United States, the profession of law is regulated by state and federal governments. Lawyers and judges play a crucial role in society, as they interpret laws, decide cases, settle disputes and impose penalties. The practice of law is a complex enterprise and it involves a wide array of skills, including the ability to read and understand complicated documents, to negotiate with clients and opponents, and to present evidence clearly in court.

Law may be enacted by legislative bodies, such as parliaments or congresses, producing statutes; established through the executive branch, resulting in administrative regulations and decrees; or forged through case law, resulting in legal precedent in common law jurisdictions. In addition, private individuals may create legally binding contracts.

The law is also influenced by religion, with Jewish halakha and Islamic sharia being examples of religious law. Religious law is typically based on religious precepts, but it also relies on further human elaboration, through interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and jurisprudence.

In addition, the law is shaped by cultural and demographic factors. For example, some countries have a centralized system of government with clear rules, while others devolve power to local communities or regions, leaving room for judicial interpretation and flexible application.

The law also reflects the values and beliefs of its societies, and the prevailing attitudes towards equality and fairness. Whether core human, procedural and property rights are enshrined in the law; whether people face the same legal consequences for the same offences; and whether there are mechanisms to prevent abuses of power, such as a free press, are all significant questions that are relevant to the study of law. The Oxford Dictionary of Law contains more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on all major legal terms and concepts. It is written by trusted experts, for researchers at every level. This comprehensive resource explains the fundamentals of law and legal systems, and provides the background knowledge needed to research complex topics in the field. It includes a chronology and glossary to assist with quick reference. The dictionary also covers key legal developments and current debates. This is an essential tool for any student of law or anyone who needs to understand the complexities of contemporary legal issues. The dictionary is available in print and online. The online edition includes links to relevant websites, and full cross-references within entries for easy navigation.