What Is Law?


Law encompasses a broad set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate and has been described as both a science and an art of justice.

The law can apply to a variety of things, from regulating contracts to defining property rights. It can also be a tool for advancing public policy, such as setting guidelines for how survivors of domestic violence are treated or identifying which areas are eligible for research funding.

In the United States, laws are often called “bills” or “acts.” Once a bill is passed in both houses of Congress and signed by the president, it becomes a law. Then the law receives a unique number to identify the year and session it was passed, such as P.L. 107-101. Public laws are gathered into a collection called the U.S. Statutes at Large, while private laws are compiled into the Federal Register and state statute books.

Legal research can be challenging without the right resources. The library has numerous subscription databases, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis, as well as HeinOnline, which includes all the major legal journals and many specialty law publications. A helpful feature of HeinOnline is that it allows a researcher to see the original citation for an article, which helps avoid plagiarism. It also provides an easy-to-use permalink for the cited article, which can help keep track of where a reference was found in your work.

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