Law is a system of rules created by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It can be enforced by mechanisms established by the state through decrees or regulations, or it may come from the collective wisdom of a community in the form of custom and policy that is recognized and enforced by judges, known as common law or civil law. Private individuals can also create legal contracts and agreements that are binding upon them, such as a mortgage contract or an employment agreement. The study of law, which is called jurisprudence, involves learning about these systems and how they function.
Law serves many purposes, but the principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, and resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways.
It is a complex field, and its precise definition has been a subject of debate. A central tenet is that laws must be based on fact and reason, but they cannot be purely logical: the felt necessities of a particular time, prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy avowed or unconscious, and even the prejudices of judges themselves are all factors in the creation of law.
For example, tort law provides compensation when someone or their property is harmed, whether in an automobile accident or through defamation of character. Criminal law deals with crimes against the federal, state or local government, or against other people within a jurisdiction. Administrative law, such as taxation or immigration, are areas of administrative law, while contract law and family law fall under the heading of civil law.
Property law covers rights to land and buildings (called real estate) as well as personal property such as furniture, cars or clothes. The laws of evidence and civil procedure establish the procedures that courts must follow as they conduct trials or appeals. Medical law includes physician-patient privilege and the confidentiality of a patient’s medical records.
A legal system is a complicated and fascinating subject, covering many different fields and topics. Law is a broad discipline that can be broken down into various subfields, such as criminal law or the law of torts, each of which requires a thorough understanding of its own unique set of principles and nuances. Our collection of articles on Law offers authoritative and accessible entries on these subjects for researchers at all levels. The articles cover the major terms, concepts and processes that make up this broad subject area, including the law of contract, international law and family law, as well as the broader debates in legal theory. Each entry is written by a trusted expert and complemented with tables and charts. These resources are essential for anyone studying or researching this important and contested field.