General Legal Terms
Acceptance - The act of agreeing to accept an offer.
Acknowledgment - Declaration of the validity of a document before an officer of the court who certifies same; that certification is known as the acknowledgment.
Acquit - The act of freeing a person from the charge of an offense by means of a decision, verdict, or other legal process; to discharge.
Action - A non-criminal judicial proceeding whereby one party prosecutes another for a wrongful doing or for protection of a right or prevention of a wrong; requires service of process on an adversary party or a potentially adversary party.
Ad Damnum - That clause within a pleading that alleges the amount of loss or injury.
Adjournment - A temporary postponement of the proceedings of a case until a specified future time.
Adjudicate - To hear or try and determine judicially.
Adversary - An opponent, (e.g., the defendant is the plaintiff's adversary).
Adversarial System - The system of trial practice in the U.S. and some other countries in which each of the opposing, or adversary, parties has full opportunity to present and establish its opposing contentions before the court.
Affiant - One who swears to an affidavit; see also: Deponent
Affidavit - A sworn or affirmed statement made in writing and signed
Affinity - Related by marriage; family relation from one's spouse's family.
Affidavit of Service - An affidavit meant to certify the service of a writ , notice, or other document.
Affirm - An act of declaring something to be true under the penalty of perjury by a person who conscientiously declines to take an oath for religious or other pertinent reasons.
Affirmation - A solemn and formal declaration under penalties of perjury that a statement is true, without an oath.
Affirmed - Upheld or agreed with the decision of a lower court.
Allegation - The assertion, declaration, or statement of a party to an action, made in a pleading, setting out what the party expects to prove.
Allege - To assert a fact in a pleading.
Alternate Juror - A juror selected as substitute in case another juror must leave the jury panel.
Amend - To change.
Amicus Curiae - Latin term meaning “a friend of the court,” which refers to a non-party in a proceeding that the court permits to present his/her views.
Answer: - A document submitted by a defendant in which he/she responds to and/or denies the allegations of the plaintiff.
Appeal - A proceeding to have a case examined by an appropriate higher court to see if a lower court's decision was made correctly according to law.
Appearance - The participation in the proceedings by a party summoned in an action, either in person or through an attorney.
Appellant - The party who takes the action of appealing to a higher court.
Appellee - The party against whom an appeal is brought.
Arbitration - The submission (voluntarily or involuntarily) of a disputed matter to selected person(s), also known as arbitrators, outside of the court; after the hearing, the arbitrator issues an arbitration award, which is legally binding.
Argument - A reason given in proof or rebuttal.
Assumption of Risk - The act of voluntarily proceeding with an activity in spite of obvious and known danger.
At Issue - When the parties to a suit come to a point in the pleadings that is affirmed on one side and denied on the other, they are said to be at issue.
Attestation - The act of witnessing an instrument in writing at the request of the party making the same, and subscribing it as a witness.
Attorney of Record - Attorney whose name appears in the permanent records or files of a case.
Award - A decision of an arbitrator.
Bar - 1. Prohibit (e.g., to bar the prosecution of an action); 2. The members of the legal profession.
Bench - The Judge's seat or the judge, himself/herself (e.g., the attorney addressed the bench).
Bifurcated Trial - A case in which the trial of the liability issue in a personal injury or wrongful death case is heard separate from and prior to trial of the damages in question.
Bill of Costs: - A written statement of the itemized taxable costs and disbursements.
Bill of Particulars - The factual detail submitted by a claimant after a request by the adverse party that details, clarifies, or explains further the charges and/or facts alleged in a pleading.
Brief - A written or printed document prepared by the lawyers on each side of a dispute and submitted to the court in support of their arguments; a brief includes the points of law that the lawyer wished to establish, the arguments the lawyer uses, and the legal authorities on which the lawyer rests his/her conclusions.
Calendar - A schedule of matters to be heard in court.
Calendar Call - The calling of matters requiring parties or their attorneys to appear and be heard, usually done at the beginning of each court day
Caption - In a pleading, deposition, or other paper connected with a case in court, it is the heading or introductory clause that shows the names of the parties, name of the court, number of the case on the docket or calendar, etc.
Case File - The court file containing papers submitted in a case.
Cause of Action - Grounds on which a legal action may be brought (e.g., property damage, personal injury, goods sold and delivered, work labor, and services).
Certified Copy - Copy of a document signed and certified as a true duplicate of an original by the Clerk of the Court or other authorized persons (e.g., lawyer).
Certificate of Readiness - A document attesting that the parties in a lawsuit are ready to go to trial.
Certify - To testify in writing.
Change of Venue - The removal of a suit begun in one county or district to another county or district for trial; the term may also apply to the removal of a suit from one court to another court of the same county or district.
Charge to Jury - In trial practice, an address delivered by the court to the jury at the close of the case instructing the jury as to what principles of law they are to apply in reaching a decision.
Chattel - Article of personal property.
Citation - 1) Summons to appear; 2) Reference to authorities in support of an argument.
Claim (Personal Injury) - A civil action relating to the physical or mental harm suffered by the plaintiff, or on behalf of the injured victim, due to negligence on the defendant's part.
Class-Action Lawsuit - A suit filed by a plaintiff or plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and as representatives of others; class-action lawsuits are most often filed to hold a company accountable for the liability of its products, such as defective pharmaceutical drugs or toxic materials.
Clerk's Extract - The clerk’s written summary of a trial’s proceedings.
Clerk's Minutes - Notes taken by a clerk of events that occurred in court.
Commissioner of Jurors - The person in charge of summoning citizens for jury duty.
Comparative Negligence - A partial defense that considers the plaintiff's own negligence that contributed to the accident or injury. A plaintiff may only recover compensation if his or her negligence is less than the defendant's. In such cases, a plaintiff's total damages are reduced by the proportion they are determined to be at fault.
Common Law - The body of law that originated in England and upon which present day U.S. law is based.
Compensatory Damages - Reimbursement for actual loss or injury, as distinguished from exemplary or punitive damages.
Complaint - The initial pleading in an action formally setting forth the facts and reasons on which the demand for relief is based.
Consanguinity - Related by blood.
Conservator - One who is appointed by a court to manage the affairs of a protected person.
Consolidated Action - When the court consolidates or merges two or more actions involving a common question of law; it then becomes one action with one title and results in one verdict and one judgment.
Contempt of Court - An act or omission that tends to obstruct or interfere with the orderly administration of justice or to impair the dignity of the court and/or respect for its authority.
Consolidate - A joining of two or more actions to be tried together.
Contested Action - An action which involves disputed issue(s) of fact or law.
Contract - A legally enforceable agreement between two or more persons or parties (which can be oral or written).
Corroborate - To strengthen; to add weight by additional evidence.
Costs - The statutory sum awarded to the successful party when a judgment is entered.
Counsel - Lawyer or attorney.
Counterclaim - In civil actions, a claim brought by a defendant against the plaintiff for an unlimited amount of money.
Court of Limited Jurisdiction - A city court, district court, or other court that has jurisdiction only over actions authorized by law.
Court Reporter - The person who transcribes by shorthand or stenographically the testimony during court proceedings.
Crossclaim - Claim litigated by co-defendants or co-plaintiffs against each other and not against a party on the opposite side of the litigation.
Cross-Examination - Questioning by a party or his attorney of an adverse party or a witness called by an adverse party.
Damages - Monetary compensation for wrong or injury caused by the violation of a legal right. 1. Compensatory Damages: Reimbursement for actual loss or injury. 2. Exemplary Damages: Monetary award by way of punishment for injury caused by aggravated circumstances or malice, in addition to compensation for the injury. 3. Punitive Damages: Monetary compensation awarded in excess of ordinary damages, as punishment for a gross or purposeful wrong.
Date-Stamp - The stamping on a document of the date it is received.
Decision - The determination reached by a court in any judicial proceeding, which is the basis of the judgment.
Declaratory Judgment - One fixing rights of parties without ordering anything to be done.
Decree - A decision or order of the court; a Final Decree is one that fully and finally disposes of the litigation; an Interlocutory Decree is a provisional or preliminary decree that is not final.
Default - A "default" in an action of law occurs when a defendant omits to plead or otherwise defend within the time allowed, or fails to appear at the trial.
Defendant - The party being sued, or the party accused of committing the offense charged.
Deliberation - The process by which a panel of jurors comes to a decision on a verdict.
De Novo - Latin term meaning “from the beginning”.
Deponent - One who testifies under oath to the truth of facts.
Deposition - Sworn testimony of a witness.
Direct Examination - The first interrogation of a witness by the party on whose behalf the witness is called.
Directed Verdict - An instruction by the judge to the jury to return a specific verdict.
Discovery (or Disclosure) - The procedure whereby one party to an action may be informed as to facts known by other parties or witnesses.
Dismissal - Termination of a proceeding for a procedurally prescribed reason.
Dismissal with Prejudice - Action dismissed on the merits that prevent renewal of the same claim or cause of action.