Law is the system of rules that a community recognizes as regulating the behavior of its members. Oxford Reference provides expert-level coverage of all aspects of the study of law. We offer more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries on every aspect of this broad discipline. Our coverage includes criminal law, family law and tax law, as well as the major debates in legal theory.
The primary purposes of law are to establish standards, maintain order and resolve disputes and to protect people’s liberties and rights. The law also has secondary purposes, such as ensuring that the public receives adequate service from government and that private institutions provide fair services to customers.
From a methodological perspective, the law is unusual in that it is normative, stating how people ought to behave or what they may not do, and prescriptive rather than descriptive (like a law of gravity). Thus it is not easily classified with other empirical sciences such as natural science, nor with social sciences such as economics, which describe the way society works.
Law encompasses the set of rules that a particular country or community accepts as governing its actions, and it deals with a wide range of subjects. For example, civil laws deal with such matters as contracts, negligence and property ownership, while criminal laws cover offenses against the state such as homicide and fraud.
The development of law was influenced by many factors. For example, the Romans developed detailed commercial codes to bring order to a diverse trade environment. Medieval European legal scholars adapted the concepts of these codes into the common law, which is based on court decisions. Today, laws such as the European Union’s consumer laws and antitrust law serve to regulate business activity.
Other areas of law include aviation law, space law and banking law. Bankers follow regulatory laws that define the minimum amount of capital banks must hold, and laws regarding investment practices. The law also governs how the money supply is managed, a key factor in economic stability.
A specialized area of law is international law, which covers such topics as treaties and international agreements. This law is a significant factor in globalization, as the world’s economies are increasingly connected.
The responsibilities of those involved in the law are vast. Some are employed by courts, while others work in governmental offices or for private companies. Lawyers are trained in law schools and obtain a degree called a Juris Doctor, or JD. They are licensed to practice law after meeting certain criteria, such as passing a bar exam. Other professionals working in the legal system are clerks, paralegals and interpreters. They are all part of a system that is designed to help ensure fair and impartial justice for all.