The Study of Law


Law is the system of rules that ensures a society adheres to certain standards and resolves conflicts. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways. The subject may be divided into three core areas, though they intertwine and overlap: constitutional law, common law, and criminal law. For examples, labour law studies the tripartite industrial relationship of worker, trade union and employer; contract law regulates agreements between people; property law defines people’s rights to tangible goods (such as land and buildings) or intangible assets like shares and bank accounts. The study of law can also include legal history and jurisprudence, the body of caselaw that judges use to decide cases.

The study of law can be considered as a science, but it is different from the sciences in that normative statements are made: a rule is said to be ‘legally binding’ if, in the judgement of a judge or barrister, it would have been deemed’reasonable’ in their day. This distinction has implications for the theory of law that are not shared by many other sciences.

For example, the scientific method requires a rigorous process of observation and measurement in order to make predictions about behaviour. But the behaviour of people is complex, and influenced by their own experiences, expectations, and beliefs. This makes it difficult to predict the behaviour of a group of people, or even an individual. Consequently, laws are often based on probabilities rather than predictions.

Law can be shaped by a number of processes, including a constitution, legislation (in the form of statutes and regulations), and custom. Some countries, for instance in Africa and parts of Asia that were once colonized by continental European nations, retain civil law traditions, while others, such as the United States, follow a common law tradition.

In general, a rule of law is enforced by a central authority that sets standards for conduct and ensures adherence to those standards. This authority may be a government, a legal profession or other organisation. The concept of a law is not a fixed entity, as it can be changed over time, depending on the needs of a society.

Max Weber reshaped thinking on the extension of state power by showing that modern military, police and bureaucratic force is a new and highly problematic extension of the state, with special problems for accountability that earlier writers such as Locke and Montesquieu could not have foreseen.

In a more ontological sense, law can be seen as the difference between an individual’s tale of inequality and the codified community narrative of equal justice for all. This is a similar kind of gap to the one that exists between the speed of light and the speed of sound, and it is as real and measurable as either of those. See also sociology of law.