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Law Glossary

Law Glossary

Acknowledgment: An affirmation or admission of obligation or responsibility. 

Acquittal: The finding by a judge or jury that the defendant is not guilty of the crime with which the person was charged.

Action: A legal and formal proceeding to enforce one’s rights.

Adjudication: The legal process by which a judge reviews evidence, hears argumentation and resolves a case in a court of law.

Affidavit: A formal written statement under oath that can be used in court.

Alimony: A sum of money that a person is required to provide to their spouse during separation or following a divorce. Alimony is not child support.

Annulment: A legal proceeding that cancels a marriage declaring that it never existed.

Appeal: An application to a higher court to review and reverse the decision of a lower court.

Appearance: When a defendant is first brought in front of a judge in criminal court.

Arbitration: A private method of resolving legal issues outside of the courtroom.

Arbitrator: A neutral party who hears both sides of a legal dispute (arbitration) and has the authority to make a legally binding decision.

Arraignment: A courtroom procedure where a defendant is formally charged and informed of the charges brought against him or her. A defendant can either plead guilty or not guilty following the arraignment.

Asbestos: A naturally occurring element and carcinogen widely used for fire-resistant materials until the early 1970s. Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer.

Assault: Intentionally causing another person apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact

Attorney: An attorney-at-law is a legal professional who advises or represents clients in either pleading or defending a case.

Bar: The formal organization of the legal profession which enforces professional standards of ethics and conduct.

Battery: A physical act that results in injury or offensive contact with another person. Often combined with an assault charge, or assault and battery.

Bench: The location where a judge sits in a courtroom which represents the administration of justice. 

Beneficiary: The designated person who receives the rewards of an insurance policy or will.

Benefit: Any profit or reward received through a formal contract, such as an insurance policy or will.

Bifurcation: The splitting of one case into two separate trials.

Brief: A written legal document that is presented to the court to aid in a decision.

Caption: The standardized heading of legal documents that contains important case information, including the defendant, plaintiff, judge and case number.

Cause: An act or inaction that brings about a result. Cause must be established in court to find a defendant liable.

Certification: The act of certifying, or creation of a certified statement.

Claim: A formal demand for compensation for an injury or other harm.

Class Action Lawsuit: A lawsuit where a group of people with common issues are represented by one plaintiff who brings a case to court on their behalf.

Compensation: Something, usually money, provided to make amends with a person for losses or injury caused.

Concussion: A brain injury caused by a blow or violent shaking of the head.

Conservator: A person legally appointed to care for a person with physical or mental limitation due to disability or old age. Conservators can care for financial or daily needs.

Contract: A verbal or written agreement enforceable by law.

Contusion: Also known as a bruise, an area of skin where injury has caused capillaries to burst.

Conviction: A formal decision and declaration that a defendant is guilty, following a jury verdict or judicial decision.

Copyright: A legal right to intellectual property, especially creative works, for a set period.

Corporation: The legal entity of a business that is separated from its owners.

Court: 1. The official meeting where a judge leads legal proceedings, 2. The location of legal proceedings presided over by a judge.

Damages: The amount of money the defendant must pay as recompense for breaching a contract or causing injury or loss.

Deductible: The amount that an insurance policyholder must pay when making a claim before the insurance covers the rest.

Deposition: Recording the oral testimony of a person under oath outside of court for use during court proceedings.

Disability: In legal terms, the lack of legal ability to perform an action.

Disclosure: The process of disclosing any documents that may be used during court to the other party, as required by law.

Discovery: The formal exchange of facts and evidence regarding the case from both parties involved in the case or other parties.

Double jeopardy: The constitutional protection from undergoing trial twice for the same crime or offense.

Due process: The fair treatment of a person and the protection of legal right during judicial processes.

Elder abuse: A single or repeated action or inaction that harms or causes distress to an elderly person. Elder abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, negligent or financial.

Employee: A person who is hired to work for a company or another person for compensation.

Ergonomics: The practice of changing a work environment to meet the needs of employees rather than forcing employees to adapt to dangerous or harmful work conditions.

Et al: An abbreviation for the latin term, et alia, meaning “and others.”

Evidence: Anything that is presented in a court of law to prove or disprove a case.

Felony: A serious crime punishable with jail time of over one year or death.

Fiduciary: A person or organization that is ethically obligated to act on behalf of another person in their best interest, rather than their own.

Filing: The delivery of documents to a court clerk and entering of those documents into the official record.

Findings: The result of deliberation by a jury or court of law.

Fraud: When a person engages in false or deceitful conduct with the intention of gaining something of value from another.

Guardian: A legal guardian is appointed to care for a child in the case where neither parent is able to adequately care for the child. 

Guardian ad litem: A person appointed by the court to identify the care situation that is in the best interest of a child, usually during divorce proceedings. Courts may also appoint guardian ad litem in cases involving people who are incompetent or incarcerated.

Hazard: A danger or risk.

Hearing: A proceeding before a judge in a court of law.

Homeowner’s Insurance: Insurance for an owned residential property, which protects the asset in case of damage or destruction.

Immunity: Protection from accountability for breaking certain laws in the pursuit of something of greater societal value.

Insurance: A contract where the insured pays an insurer a small sum of money for protection from a significant and unpredictable financial loss.

Insured: The person who holds the insurance policy.

Insurer: The entity that provides insurance protection.

Intervention: A legal procedure where a third party person is granted permission to join a lawsuit as either a plaintiff or defendant.

Issue: In a lawsuit, an issue is a disputed point of fact or law.

Judge: A public official who is given authority to hear cases and make judgments. 

Judgment: A decision by a judge in a court of law, often accompanied by an explanation of the reasoning used to reach the decision.

Law: A system of rules enforced at an international, national or local level with punishment for those who break the rules.

Lawyer: A person who practices law and advises clients on legal matters.

Legal aid: A service provided by nonprofit organizations to provide legal advice and representation to people who cannot afford a lawyer for non-criminal cases.

Liability: Something a person or entity is legally responsible for.

Licensee: A person, business or other entity that is legally allowed to perform a certain activity.

Lien: A security interest in property held by a creditor. If the debt is not paid, the creditor may be able to take possession of the property.

Litigation: The process of resolving a dispute through the court system.

Loss: The value of injury or damages caused by another person or entity.

Maintenance: A term used in family law to describe alimony or spousal support.

Mandate: A demand or ruling from the court that a person is obligated to obey.

Mediation: A process where two parties discuss their legal issue with a neutral and trained third party present hoping to settle the issue without going to court. Unlike arbitration, mediation is not legally binding.

Mesothelioma: A form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Misdemeanor: A crime punishable by less than 12 months in jail or a fine.

Moot: A legal argument for the purpose of legal education, or a legal point that will not change the outcome of a case. 

Negligence: A failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. 

Negotiation: An alternative option to resolve disputes without going to court by arriving at a settlement through discussion.

Notary: Also called a notary public, a notary is a person allowed by law to help verify the validity of legally binding documents.

Paralegal: A legal professional who completes substantive legal work for a lawyer, company or other entity for which a lawyer is responsible. As a general rule, paralegals may assist lawyers, but may not practice law themselves.

Parties: Persons who are actively involved in a legal proceeding, such as the plaintiff and defendant.

Perjury: Lying under oath.

Petition: A formal request for a specific action by the court.

PIP: Also known as personal injury protection or no-fault insurance. A type of coverage that pays the medical bills of a person who is injured in a car accident regardless of who was at fault in causing the accident.

Plaintiff: The person bringing a case against another person or entity (the defendant).

Power of Attorney: Written authorization to make legal decisions or take action on behalf of another person.

Precedent: An existing court decision that provides guidance to courts for ruling on subsequent cases with similar issues.

Pro Bono: Providing legal services for free to a person who cannot otherwise afford legal representation.

Pro Se: Acting as one’s own lawyer, representing oneself in court.

Proceeding: The full process of a regular lawsuit, from filing to settlement.

Prognosis: The likely trajectory of an illness or injury.

Prosecutor: A public official who conducts a case against the defendant in criminal trials.

Purchaser: A person who buys something.

Quid Pro Quo: Something done with the expectation that one will get something in return.

Rebut: To prove that a statement or evidence is false.

Record: A written document that accounts for everything that happened during court proceedings. The record of a case includes all pleadings and transcripts filed with the court.

Recovery: The amount of money gained by the plaintiff as the result of a settlement or judgment.

Rehabilitation: Preparing someone who has committed a crime to become a productive member of society.

Request: The ask from an attorney to a judge for something to be granted or completed.

Retainer: The fee that a client pays to an attorney before completing work for the client.

Reversal: When a court of appeals overturns the decision of a lower court.

Ruling: An official decision on a point of law by a judge.

Seller: The person selling goods or services.

Sequester: The isolation of a jury during a high-profile case to prevent a tainting impact of media or outside sources. Witnesses may also be sequestered until after they testify so they will not hear other witnesses.

Standing: The capacity to bring a lawsuit based on the plaintiff having a redressable injury.

Statute of limitations: A length of time that a plaintiff has to bring a case against a defendant following the crime, harm or damage.

Stipulation: An agreement between parties in a lawsuit.

Subpoena: A summons to compel witness testimony or the production of documents.

Sue: To bring a civil action against another person or entity.

Transcript: A copy of the record of court proceedings. Usually a written or printed version of oral testimony or argument.

Venue: The location where something takes place.

Void: Means of “no legal effect,” as if something never existed.

Will: A document that shares a person’s wishes for the distribution of their assets upon their death.

Worker’s compensation: Provides financial compensation to an employee who is hurt while completing job responsibilities.