Legal Terms Every Law Student Should Know

Legal terms law students should know

A glossary to help you through your 1st year of law school

The law has a language all its own. Here are some of the most common legal terms and definitions every 1st-year law student needs to know.

One of the reasons law school is so challenging is that lawyers talk differently. There are a whole host of words you’ll hear for the 1st time once you start law school. To make matters worse, some of your professors are so used to throwing around these words that they won’t slow down and explain what they mean.

Fortunately, Enjuris is here to help. The following defined terms are intended to provide 1st-year law students with a basic understanding of common legal terminology.

Enjuris tip: The following terms are intended to help you through your 1st year of law school. Obviously, there are additional legal words and concepts that you’ll need to become familiar with throughout law school. To this end, we recommend keeping a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary by your side.

Abate

To reduce, diminish, or entirely destroy.

Abrogate

To cancel or revoke.

Abut

To be adjacent to.

Action

Shorthand for “cause of action”; a lawsuit.

Ad hoc

Latin shorthand meaning “for this purpose only.” For example, an ad hoc attorney is an attorney hired to handle 1 problem.

ADR

Abbreviation for “alternative dispute resolution,” which refers to the settling of legal disputes by means other than trial. The 2 most common forms are arbitration and mediation.

Advance sheet

Judicial decisions go through 3 stages of being printed: slip opinions, advance sheets, and a final bound reporter. Advance sheets are thin books comprised of several recent cases. The citations to the cases are generally what they will be when they appear in the final hardbound reporter (which is published when the publisher has enough cases to make a full volume).

Affirmative defense

A defense which, if proven, will negate criminal or civil liability.

Amicus curiae

A party that’s not involved in litigation but gives expert testimony when the court asks. The party can support public interests not being addressed in the trial.

Annotated code

A version of a code which, in addition to the language of the law, contains references to law review articles, other relevant regulations and statutes, and summaries of relevant cases.

Answer

The formal written statement by a defendant in a civil case that responds to a complaint.

Arguendo

For the sake of argument.

Bluebook

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation is a book published by Harvard Law Review. The book sets forth the abbreviations and rules of citation for legal materials. Most law schools require students to follow the Bluebook and most courts require attorneys to follow the Bluebook or at least use the Bluebook as a default when the local rules are silent.

Bona fide

Good faith (e.g., a bona fide purchaser is an individual who purchases in good faith for value).

Caveat emptor

Latin term meaning “let the buyer beware.” Stands for the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made.

Certiorari

Latin term meaning “to be informed of.” It’s also the name given to certain appellate proceedings for re-examination of actions of a trial court or an inferior appeals court.

CFR

The abbreviation for “Code of Federal Regulations,” the codified subject arrangement of current regulations issued by agencies of the federal government.

Chattel

Moveable property (in contrast to real estate).

Code

A systematic subject compilation of laws (statutory or regulatory). Statutes and regulations are initially published chronologically as they’re enacted. The code organizes the statutes and regulations by subject (e.g., Title 26 of the United States Code covers taxation).

Damages

Compensation imposed by the law to one who has suffered harm due to another’s wrongdoing.

Decedent

A dead person (i.e., the deceased).

Demurrer

An objection expressing the point that even if the facts as stated are true, their legal consequences don’t require that the action proceed further.

Dicta

Observations or opinions by a court stated in a decision that are extraneous to the case and carry no precedential weight.

Equity

A principle which provides justice when ordinary laws may be inadequate.

Ex parte

A proceeding brought before a court by 1 party only, without notice to or challenge by the other side.

F, F2d and F3d

The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd series of the Federal Reporter, respectively, which is the reporter for opinions of the federal court of appeals.

F. Supp

The Federal Supplement is the reporter for published opinions of the federal district courts.

Grantee

An individual to whom a transfer or conveyance of property is made.

Grantor

An individual who conveys or transfers ownership of property.

Gunner

A slang term used to describe a law student who is competitive and routinely exceeds minimum requirements. Often, a gunner compromises their peer relationships or reputation in order to obtain recognition and praise from their superiors.

Habeas corpus

A writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court to determine if their detention is lawful.

Headnotes

Editors of published case reports include with the opinions a series of very brief summaries of the major issues. In Westlaw, the headnotes include the topic and key number, and contain the same language as the digest summary of the case.

Injunction

An order issued by the court requiring a person to refrain from doing a particular thing. For example, a judge may order that a construction company cease building an apartment complex until a hearing can be held.

Holding

Any ruling or decision of a court.

Hornbook

Treatises or secondary sources written primarily for law students. Hornbooks generally set forth the basic established principles of law and explain how the law has developed.

In rem

Latin term meaning “against or about a thing,” referring to a lawsuit or other legal action concerning a piece of property.

Interlocutory

Provisional and not intended to be final. This term is generally used to describe court orders that are temporary.

Intestate

Term used to describe a situation where a person dies without leaving a valid will.

Ipso facto

Latin term meaning “by the fact” (e.g., a lawyer who challenges well-established models is not ipso facto mistaken).

Judgment

The official decision of a court finally resolving the dispute between the parties of a lawsuit.

Legalese

The formal and technical language of legal documents.

Lis pendens

Latin term meaning “a suit pending”; generally a lis pendens is filed with the clerk to indicate that a piece of real property is subject to a lawsuit.

Majority rule

A principle of law accepted by more than half of the jurisdictions in question when there’s no uniform principle.

Motion

A formal request to a court asking the court to answer a legal question or take some action.

Order

Official proclamation by a court generally defining a relationship or ordering that something be done.

Parol

Oral as opposed to in writing (e.g., the parol evidence rule prohibits the introduction of oral evidence to contradict a subsequently executed written contract).

Precedent

An existing opinion, usually published, which because of its similar facts and legal issues, serves to guide a court in the case before it.

Prima facie case

A cause of action sufficiently established to justify a favorable verdict if the other party to the action doesn’t rebut the evidence.

Quantum meruit

A Latin term meaning “as much as it’s worth.” A claim in quantum meruit is usually an action to recover the reasonable value of services rendered by one party to another.

Reasonable person

A hypothetical “everyman”; a person of average intelligence and reason.

Reporter

Court opinions form a particular court or group of courts are published in books referred to as reporters. Reporters may be official or unofficial.

Seisin

Possession coupled with the right of possession.

Stare decisis

The legal principle of determining points in litigation according to precedent.

Statute

A law written and approved by the federal or state legislature.

Uniform laws

A compilation of laws sponsored by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and proposed to all state legislatures for their consideration and adoption. Some uniform laws are passed by a few states, others passed by all states, and some passed with minor changes.

USC

Abbreviation for the “United States Code”; the official version of the federal statutory code.

Looking for more information to help guide you through your law school experience? Check out the Enjuris student center.

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