What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that regulate the actions of people and societies. It serves to keep peace and maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and provide for orderly social change.

Legal systems vary widely across nations and communities, ranging from the common law in England to customary law in Africa or Islamic Sharia in the Middle East. They often include the principles of stare decisis (Latin for “to stand by”), which binds higher courts to decisions made by lower ones.

The term ‘law’ is generally used to describe any rules that are enforceable by the state or other authorities and that guide human behaviour in society. These rules can be imposed by the government as a form of control, or they can be enacted by private actors, such as citizens, companies, or individuals.

Some forms of law are based on religious precepts, while others are more objective in nature, reflecting a variety of moral values and ethical standards. These include the Jewish Halakha, Islamic Sharia, and Christian canon law.

There is a wide range of professional identities within the legal profession, from solicitors to barristers to judges. Lawyers achieve distinct professional identity through a number of legal procedures, such as passing a qualifying examination or being admitted to practice in an appropriate jurisdiction. They are regulated by either the state or an independent regulating body such as a bar association or law society.

It is essential for a lawyer to have a strong academic background, as well as practical experience in the field. Typical qualifications are a law degree, a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related subject, and a postgraduate qualification such as a doctorate or doctor of legal philosophy.

Many lawyers also specialise in a particular area of law, for example, criminal law or commercial law. This may be due to a particular interest in that area, or to the need for specialist knowledge in a certain part of the law.

The study of law is a broad subject that requires both a deep understanding of the details of legislation and cases, as well as an awareness of how different areas of law interlock with each other and what they aim to achieve. This is a key skill for those studying to become lawyers, as it will be necessary for them to use their law degree to analyse complex cases in a timely and thorough manner.

Whether you are looking for a concise definition of a legal concept or in-depth, specialist coverage of a topic from the UK or Australia, Oxford Reference has you covered with authoritative, accessible information on all aspects of this important discipline. With more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries, Oxford Reference provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date coverage of this important field of study available online.

The study of law is one of the oldest of the sciences, with roots extending back into the Neolithic period. Throughout history, it has been influenced by religion and political philosophy, as well as science and technology.