Law School Dictionary

Welcome to the Law School Dictionary. This Dictionary is compiled by Law School Coach, and is intended to define basic terms you will encounter in law school. This is not intended to be a legal dictionary. Instead, you will find the meaning for the most common words that you will encounter during your 1L year of law school.

A - F

Abate To reduce, diminish, or entirely destroy.
Abet To aid or encourage another.
Abrogate To cancel or revoke.
Abut To be adjacent to.
Accessory Party to a criminal act.
Accord and Satisfaction Settlement of a claim for less than the full amount.
Acquittal Finding of not guilty in a criminal case.
Action A lawsuit.
Actus Reus The physical act of committing a crime.
Ad hoc For a particular purpose.
Adjudication 1) In a judicial proceeding, the act of resolving a dispute or deciding a case. 2) A judicial ruling or decision.
Administrative Law Branch of law dealing with regulations by, and hearings before, government agencies that make and enforce regulations in specialized fields.
Affidavit A written document in which the signer (Affiant) swears under oath before someone authorized to take oaths, that the statements in the document are true.
Affirmative Defense A Pleading which states that even if the facts alleged in the Complaint are true, there are legal Defenses which excuse or justify the behavior on which the lawsuit is based.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is the settling of legal disputes by means other than trial in court. The two most common forms of ADR are Arbitration and Mediation.
Amicus Curiae A person or organization who is not directly involved in a proceeding who, because of a special interest or knowledge, is allowed to file a brief or offer an argument in court supporting one side of the matter or another. From the Latin phrase "friend of the court."
Annotation Citations following a Statute showing the cases where the statute was mentioned.
Answer A Pleading filed with the court in response to being sued.  
Appeal The process by which the losing party in a proceeding seeks to have that loss reversed by a higher court.
Appellant The person who is appealing a judgment or verdict.
Appellate Having to do with appeals.
Appellee The person who is defending an appeal, the party who wants the trial court decision to stand.
Arbitration A process for resolving disputes without using the court system in which the parties agree to submit the controversy to private individuals (arbitrators) who listen to both sides and provide a resolution to the dispute. Arbitration can either be binding (where the decision must be accepted), or non-binding.
Arguendo For the sake of argument.
Assumpsit A Common Law action based on a contract.
Bar The legal profession or attorneys collectively.
BigLaw Large law firms (>250 people) that represent fortune 500 companies, hire first-year lawyers, and pay the top market salaries (right now $125,000 to $160,000).  Associates work long weeks (60+ hours) and the firms typically have high turnover, though the job-offers are highly coveted.
Bona fide Good faith.
Brief 1) A digested court Opinion prepared for a law student or lawyer to understand the essence of a court decision. 2) A document prepared by attorneys for a court, setting forth the client's legal position and urging the court to accept this position instead of the opponent's.
Burden of Proof The duty by a litigant to convince the trier of fact that his or her side of the case should prevail.
Cause of Action A set of predefined factual elements that give a person the right to sue someone for a legal remedy, also called a "claim".
Caveat Emptor Let the buyer beware.
Certiorari A request by the loser in the trial court that an appellate court review the decision of the lower court, when the court of review is not legally bound to do so, but may at its discretion decide whether or not to hear the case.
Chancery 1) Equity court. 2) The relief given by an equity court.
Chattel Item of Personal Property as opposed to Real Property, includes both animate and inanimate items.
Citation 1) A stylized notation of a statute, case reporter, or other source of legal authority. 2) The identity of authority for a proposition.
Civil Law 1) The body of law involving private rights and remedies in which the rules are for the benefit of, and provide redress for, the individual as opposed to society as a whole. Contrast with Criminal Law. 2) A system of law based on the Roman legal system in which nearly all of the laws are found in codes, not court decisions.
Code An organized compilation of individual Statutes
Collateral 1) Related to, supplemental. 2) Property that secures a debt.
Common Law The body of law developed by courts in judicial opinions, not the legislature, involving primarily torts, contracts, and property.
Complaint Initial Pleading filed in a lawsuit.
Conflict of Laws A branch of law that decides whose law to apply when more than one state's law is a possibility.
Contract A legally enforceable agreement.
Conveyance Transfer of property from one person to another.
Criminal Law The body of laws imposing penalties for certain types of conduct that legislatures have determined to be detrimental to the public as a whole. A violation of criminal law is enforced only by the government. The victim of a crime cannot bring a criminal action.
Damages Award of money to be paid to a person as compensation for loss or injury.
Decedent A dead person.
Decision 1) The official pronouncement of a court resolving a dispute or a particular question put before it during a dispute. 2) The printed report of the decision or opinion in an official Reporter.
Deed A document sealed as an instrument of bond, Contract, or Conveyance, especially relating to Real Property.
De facto Existing in fact or deed, but not legally sanctioned.
Defendant The party who is charged in a Criminal case or sued in a Civil case.
Defense 1) The legal reasons why a Cause of Action either does not exist, or should not result in liability even if it does exist. 2) A general term for the effort of an attorney representing a defendant.
De jure Existing according to the law.
Demurrer A Pleading which in effect admits the facts alleged in the Complaint, but argues that even if they are true, there is no Cause of Action.
Deposition 1) A Discovery tool whereby an attorney asks oral questions to a witness (deponent), who answers under oath.  2) The written or video transcript of this discussion.
Dicta Observations or opinions by a court stated in a Decision that are extraneous to the case and carry no precedential weight.
Digest A set of books containing notes and Citations to cases and Statutes arranged by legal topic.
Discovery The formal means by which parties to a lawsuit gather information to prepare for trial.
Easement The right to use someone else's land in a certain manner.
Equity 1)  A group of rights and procedures to provide fairness, unhampered by other technical requirements of the law.  In essence courts do the fair thing such as correcting property lines, taking possession of assets, imposing a Lien, or issuing an Injunction. These rules arose in England to provide discretionary justice and used to be administered by courts of equity. Now most states combine law and equity into one Cause of Action. 2) The net value of Real Property, determined by subtracting the amount of unpaid debts from the value of the property.
Estate 1) A right in Real Property. 2) An individual's assets.
Evidence 1)  A thing that helps in forming a conclusion.  2) The documentary or oral statements and the material objects admissible as testimony in a court of law.
Ex Parte 1) One-sided, by one party, for the benefit of one party only. 2) Communication with the court by one party without the other party present.
Express Definite, declared or written, not ambiguous.
Fee Title to Real Property.
Fee Simple Complete title to Real Property.
Felony A serious crime punishable by prison or death.
Fixtures Personal Property items attached to Real Property.
Force Majeure Force outside the parties' control, such as fire, earthquake, flood; an act of God.
Foreseeable A reasonable person could appreciate the possible consequences.
Forum A court which has Jurisdiction to hold a trial of a particular lawsuit.
Forum Shopping The Plaintiff's choosing to bring a lawsuit in a particular court, when several courts would have Jurisdiction, in order to achieve a better chance for success at trial.

Law School Dictionary: