Non-Exhaustive Glossary of Terms


Act – An alternative name for statutory law. See Statutes.

Action – An alternative name for lawsuit: the process that starts with a demand (through a document named complaint) for state intervention that one party (named plaintiff) makes in order to have her status quo restored and the other party (named defendant) punished physically (in a criminal action) or financially (in both criminal and civil action).

Adjudication – The formal ending of a lawsuit by a court and of a dispute by an administrative agency.

Adjudicative Hearings – Proceedings held by administrative agencies similar to trials held in courts of law.

Administrative Agency – A governmental body that issues rules and regulations and even adjudicates disputes between parties, according to powers delegated to it by the legislature (whether federal or state).

Administrative Rules and Regulations – The law issued by (federal or state) administrative agencies according to the powers delegated to them by legislatures that usually further details rules contained in (federal or state) statutes.

Annotations – Brief summaries of court decisions and other editorial explanations that the commercially published codes feature at the end of each statutory section. The written document (pleading) the defendant files in response to plaintiff’s complaint.

Attorney – Members of a profession regulated by state laws. One of their areas of expertise is to represent other people’s legal demands for relief in courts for a fee.

Authority – See Binding Authority and Persuasive Authority.


Bill – A legislative proposal that has not been enacted as law.

Binding Authority – The authority statutes command on disputes involving issues within their subject matter, and the authority higher courts decisions have on factually similar disputes brought to lower courts from the same jurisdiction. — a digital aggregator of legal information which wants to become an alternative, less expensive version of WestlawNext and LexisAdvance.

Blog – a relatively new form of presenting information to the public. Sometimes blogs represent a digital space containing professional, usually up-to-date information. The most popular legal blog may arguably be the U.S. Supreme Court blog, Scotus, whose editor engages in predicting what cases the U.S. Court will grant cert and how the U.S. Court will decide a specific case. More recently, Bloomberglaw has united forces with Scotus and created a law student court guessing competition.

Bluebook – term usually associated with a citation style, the bluebook system of citation.

Brief – (1) the alternative name for documents that attorneys file in support of their client’s legal demands;

— (2) a summary of a court’s opinion.


Case – See Lawsuit.

Case Law – Alternative name for common law in its narrow meaning of ‘Judge–made law,” different from statutory or regulatory law.

Cause of Action – The legal grounds for a civil action.

Citation – (1) reference to authority supporting one’s legal argument;
— (2) the form used for legal reference.

Civil Law – (1) the other major world legal system (unlike common law it does not officially recognize the precedential value of earlier decisions from higher courts from the same jurisdiction);
— (2) the body of law that covers non–criminal matters.

Claim – A formal demand for state redress raised in an action.

Code – (1) a topical compilation of statutes or administrative rules and regulations. The most famous codes are the Hamurabbi Code and the French (Napoleonic) Civil Code;
— (2) primary source of law;
— (3) a specific way of publishing legal information: topically organized (e.g., the United States Code or the United States’ Code of Federal Regulations)

Common Law – (1) the other major world legal system (unlike civil law it theoretically recognizes the precedential value of earlier decisions from higher courts from the same jurisdiction);
— (2) an alterative name for case law–the body of law that includes only court decisions.

Complaint – The document that starts a civil action.

Constitution – (1) the fundamental law of most national jurisdictions (written or not);
— (2) primary source of law.

Controversy – See Lawsuit.

Court – See the Judiciary

Court Decision – See Judgment and Opinion.


Damages – Monetary compensation ordered by a court to restore plaintiff’s status quo.

Defendant – The person against whom the plaintiff (the initiating party) brings an action.

Digital Repositories of Law – Repositories of law available online. See Print Repositories of Law.

Doctrine – (1) a widely accepted legal principle;

— (2) the product of writings of professors and other scholars that has a pervasive influence on both the making and application of civil and international law.

Due Process of Law – Constitutional guaranty of a person’s enjoyment of her rights provided by the Fifth and 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.


Economic Regulations — Unlike other legal systems, the United States do not engage in economic regulations, except in economic crises, such as the recent 2008-2009 corporate bailout.

Executive – The branch of the government charged with applying the statutes.


Federal repositories of primary sources –, and FDSys. – the free-of-charge legal portal of Westlaw.

Freedom of Expression — It can be said that this is the most basic U.S. freedoms.


General Welfare Clause — One of the few Congressional powers (Art. I,§ 8), “to provide for the […] general Welfare of the United States,” it has been mainly reduced to the taxing power.

Google Scholar – Google’s legal aggregator.


Hearings – See Adjudicative Hearings and Investigative Hearings.

Holding – The conclusion of law reached by a court in deciding a case or controversy.


Injunction – A court’s order that the defendant does or refrains from doing a certain act.

Investigative Hearings – Proceedings held by congressional committees prior to enactment of legislation.


Judgment – The formal conclusion of a case or controversy. See also Opinion.

Judiciary – the branch of the government which hears cases and controversies.

Jurisdiction – (1) the geographical area in which law (in all its fonns as court decisions, statutes and administrative rules and regulations) is binding;

— (2) the boundaries of authority given to all law–making bodies to make law (decide cases, enact legislation or adopt rules and regulations).


Law – A double–meaning concept: (1) a human ideal of order and predictability–see Rule of Law;

(2) the entire system of rules that materialize that ideal of order and whose enforcement may be state–imposed.

LawMoose – a regional legal search engine operating its own independent web crawler.

Law Review Articles – One type of secondary sources. Law review articles are usually published by law schools and are student–edited. They contain writings about the law. What distinguishes law review articles from treatises is their narrower scope, its more in depth treatment of the specific legal issue, and its more often acknowledged partisan view.

Lawsuit – A criminal or civil proceeding taking place in a court.

Legislature – The branch of the federal and state government which passes statutes.

Legislative History – Documents that record the history of a statute from its introduction as a bill sponsored by a legislator to its enactment as a piece of legislation.

Lexis – Elsevier’s legal information aggregator. Lexis started and remains a digital aggregator.

Litigate – Asking the state (usually by bringing a lawsuit) to sanction one’s demands to restore one’s status quo.

Litigant – A party to a lawsuit. See also Pro Se Litigant.

Loislaw – Wolter & Kluwer’s legal information digital aggregator. .


Motion – A formal request a party to a lawsuit makes to adjudge during the lawsuit.


Opinion – The document that records the conclusion reached by a court or administrative agency adjudicating a lawsuit. All court opinions have a well–set structure that contains a heading: the name of the parties, that of their attorneys and the judge issuing the opinion, as well as the name of the court in which the opinion was held down and the date it was pronounced. In addition, court opinions summarize the facts of the case, the legal issues involved in the parties’ claims, and the reasons on which
the court’s conclusions are reached.


Persuasive Authority – The authority case law from other jurisdictions and secondary sources command.

Plaintiff – The person initiating the lawsuit.

Primary Sources – (1) the law;
— (2) the repository of law, whether it is case law (e.g., reporters), statutes (e.g., codes), or rules and regulations (e.g., codes).

Print Repositories of Law – Repositories of law, which are available in print format. See Digital Repositories of Law.

Procedural Law – The body of law that covers the rules governing the administration of justice (the operation of the legal system) as opposed to substantive law, which covers the rules that provide the rights and obligations that enable society to function.

Pro Se Litigant – A party to a lawsuit that has no professional legal representation.

Public International Law – The Law of Nations.


Reporters – (1) primary source;
— (2) alternative name for reports;
— (3) collections of court decisions, usually arranged loosely by period of time and the court making the decision.
See, Reports.

Reports – (1) primary source;
— (2) collections of court or administrative agency decisions.

Repository – (1) resource containing primary sources (for example reporters are case–law repositories);
— (2) source of individual rights (for example, the Constitution is the repository of our main freedoms).

Rule of Law – A fundamental legal principle of the American legal system.


Secondary Sources – The repository of legal writings about the law that command only persuasive authority (such as law review articles and treatises).

Stare Decisis – Common law principle which states that old cases from higher courts in the same jurisdiction are the bases for new court decisions within the same fact pattern.

Statutes – Acts of a legislature.

Substantive Law – The body of law that covers the rules that provide the rights and obligations that enable society to function, unlike procedural law that cover the rules regarding the administration of justice—how to restore or preserve status quo through litigation of rights and obligations.


Treaty – primary source of public international law. An agreement between to subjects of public international law.

Treatise – (1) secondary source;
— (2) comprehensive legal writing on an area of law, although less detailed or critical than a law review article.


Unconstitutional – the authority a court of law has over the fate of any statute – to hold it in violation of the United States Constitution (unconstitutional) and void of effect.

**United Nations** – the main non-governmental subject of public international law.

United Nations Documentation Center (ODS) – the most comprehensive digital repository of United Nations information.


Voting – fundamental democratic right.


Westlaw – Thomson Reuters’ digital aggregator of legal information.

Writ – (1) the form in which complaints were originally addressed to English courts;
— (2) Writ of certiorari refers to the discretionary device used by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear cases.