The Study of Law

Law is a system of rules created and enforced by the authorities that govern a country or community to regulate their members’ behaviour. It is usually enforced through penalties by an authority like the police or courts. The study of law, or legal studies, is the discipline that deals with the principles and rules of this system of regulation and its application to specific situations.

Many different types of law exist in the world today, with some based on ancient traditions or modern interpretations of human rights and natural justice. The law defines and limits what people can and cannot do, based on the values of the societies that create them. It establishes standards and maintains order, protects liberties and rights and sets out punishments for breaking those laws.

The creation and enforcement of the law is an ongoing process in most countries, with the details being determined by the specific culture and history of the society that creates it. Many laws have their roots in ancient traditions or religious books, including the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. These are often influenced by cultural habits and values, and the ideas and assumptions that are inherited from family and community. In many countries, the government has a constitution that sets out broad guidelines, and further laws are made to address specific issues of detail, such as defining criminal or civil laws and establishing punishments.

Some countries, for example the United States, use a common law system, which means that the law is derived from decisions made by judges in court cases. These decisions are known as case law and form the basis for what is enforceable. Others, such as Japan, have a civil law system that is based on written codes.

Lawyers or jurists are the professionals who study and apply the law in specific cases, and they are also responsible for interpreting and defending it. The responsibilities of lawyers vary widely across jurisdictions, but there are generally two main categories: transactional attorneys, who specialise in business-related matters, and litigators, who go to court to represent clients. The title of “lawyer” is often used as a mark of respect, with the abbreviation Esquire being used to indicate a barrister of greater dignity, and Doctor of law to indicate a person who has obtained a degree in law.

Oxford Reference provides expert, jargon-free, entries for all the main areas of law, from criminal and commercial law to property and family law. With over 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries written by trusted experts, our coverage is extensive and authoritative. Our legal titles cover the key concepts, processes and organisation of law at every level of complexity, and include the latest developments in the field. They are essential reading for researchers, students, librarians and general readers who need to understand how the law works in practice.