Law is the body of rules that a community recognizes as binding on its members, enforced by a controlling authority. Its study is called jurisprudence. Law has many layers of complexity, and is very different from the more well-known scientific laws (like gravity) or social sciences rules (like supply and demand). It also lacks the clear-cut boundaries that characterize the simpler subjects of science or even politics.

It is important to distinguish between civil and criminal law. Civil law concerns disputes between individuals and includes fields such as tort law (damages arising from an automobile accident, for instance) or defamation law. Criminal law concerns offenses against the community, and is more generally a tool of government for maintaining order.

A key element of the study of law is legal theory, which seeks to explain what makes a rule legally valid and just, as opposed to illegitimate or unjust. There are several strands of legal theory, from the more traditional legal positivism to a number of critical legal studies movements. The latter, such as feminism, post-structuralism and deconstructionism, have been particularly influential in the development of the study of law.

The study of law also involves a lot of debate over the very nature of law itself, which is complex from a methodological viewpoint. It is not like empirical science or even social science in that its statements are normative rather than descriptive, implying how people ought to behave, what they may or must require of each other, and so on. This gives it a particular power as an instrument of control, but also deprives it of the means for verification that one might find in empirical science or sociology.

Moreover, law is a vast field that spans virtually all areas of human life. Its subject matter ranges from international and domestic crime, taxation, employment and family law, to space and medical jurisprudence. In all of these fields, there are debates over the appropriate role of lawyers and the extent to which judges should be able to use their own sense of justice in addition to the judicial system’s established procedures.