Law is the set of rules that a society or community recognizes as regulating its members’ conduct. It has many purposes, including establishing standards and order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Law also encompasses the institutions and communities that make it up, including courts, lawyers, and government agencies. Oxford Reference offers comprehensive coverage of this complex subject, with expert-written entries on the major terms and concepts in all areas of law, from criminal and constitutional justice to family, immigration and social security law.
A lawyer is a person who practices law, usually as an advocate or defense counsel for a client in court proceedings. A lawyer may have different degrees, such as a Bachelor of Laws (LLB), a Master of Laws (LLM), or a Doctor of Laws (JD). Other common titles include Esquire to indicate membership in the bar, and Barrister to indicate membership in the Inns of Court.
The legal system in most countries is based on the rule of law, which means that judges interpret and apply the laws enacted by legislators. Other systems are based on other sources of authority, such as religious or moral teachings, or on the decisions of previous courts in similar cases.
In the United States, there are several types of law, including common law and civil law. Common law is a system of law developed in England, which is still used today in some states. Civil law, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive system of rules and principles that is arranged in codes and easily accessible to jurists and citizens. Civil law is still in use in some European countries and on Pacific islands that were once part of colonized empires.
Various branches of law include contract law, which regulates agreements between people; property law, which defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible possessions; and administrative law, which includes the regulatory framework of agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Securities and Exchange Commission. Another branch is competition law, which evolved from Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade doctrine.
Other topics in law include terrorism, the rights of minors and the treatment of women in divorce proceedings. International law includes the rights of foreigners to live and work in a country that is not their own, as well as the issue of stateless individuals. And, of course, there is a great deal of political science involved in law as Max Weber and others reshaped thinking about the extension of power over ordinary citizens’ daily lives in ways that Locke or Montesquieu could not have foreseen. This expansion of the role of the state raises important questions about accountability and the extent to which a society should legitimize its military, policing, and bureaucratic powers. This debate is central to the study of law. Moreover, law encompasses a broad range of issues related to society’s relationship with the state, including the nature of the judicial process and its limitations.