Glossary for Legal Research Basics

This glossary of terms is limited in scope, and the definitions of words are restricted in meaning to their legal or legal research context. Words whose meanings conform to general usage and are obvious are omitted from the list, e.g., Index.


The verdict in a criminal trial in which the defendant is found not guilty.

An alternative name for statutory law. When introduced into the first house of the legislature, a piece of proposed legislation is known as a bill. When passed to the next house, it may then be referred to as an act. After enactment, the terms law and act may be used interchangeably. An act has the same legislative force as a joint resolution but is technically distinguishable, being of a different form and introduced with the words "be it enacted" instead of "be it resolved."

The formal legal demand of one's rights from another person brought in court.

The formal pronouncing or recording of a judgment or decree by a court.

Administrative agency
A governmental authority, other than a legislature or court, which issues rules and regulations or adjudicates disputes arising under its statutes and regulations. Administrative agencies usually act under authority delegated by the legislature.

Administrative law
Law that affects private parties, promulgated by governmental agencies other than courts or legislative bodies. These administrative agencies derive their power from legislative enactments and are subject to judicial review.

Advance sheets
Current pamphlets containing the most recently reported opinions of a court or the courts of several jurisdictions. The volume and page numbers usually are the same as in the subsequently bound volumes of the series, which cover several numbers of the advance sheets.

Advisory opinion
An opinion rendered by a court at the request of the government or an interested party that indicates how the court would rule on a matter should adversary litigation develop. An advisory opinion is thus an interpretation of the law without binding effect. The international court of justice and some state courts will render advisory opinions; the supreme court of the united states will not.

A written statement or declaration of facts sworn to by the maker, taken before a person officially permitted by law to administer oaths.

ALWD citation manual
A manual of legal citation form prepared by the association of legal writing directors.

Alternative dispute resolution
The process of resolving disputes through such means as mediation or arbitration rather than through litigation.

Amicus curiae
Means, literally, friend of the court. A party with strong interest in or views on the subject matter of the dispute will petition the court for permission to file a brief, ostensibly on behalf of a party but actually to suggest a rationale consistent with its own views.

(1) statutory: brief summaries of the law and facts of cases interpreting statutes passed by congress or state legislatures that are included in codes; or (2) textual: expository essays of varying length on significant legal topics chosen from selected cases published with the essays.

The pleading filed by the defendant in response to plaintiff's complaint.

Appeal papers
The briefs and transcripts of records on appeal filed by attorneys with courts in connection with litigation.

The party who requests that a higher court review the actions of a lower court. Compare with appellee.

The party against whom an appeal is taken (usually, but not always, the winner in the lower court). It should be noted that a party's status as appellant or appellee bears no relation to his or her status as plaintiff or defendant in the lower court.

The hearing and settlement of a dispute between opposing parties by a third party. This decision is often binding by prior agreement of the parties.

An unlawful, intentional show of force or an attempt to do physical harm to another person. Assault can constitute the basis of a civil or criminal action. See also battery.

Assault and battery
See battery.

Attorney general opinion
An opinion issued by the government's chief counsel at the request of some governmental body interpreting the law for the requesting agency in the same manner as a private attorney would for his or her client. The opinion is not binding on the court but is usually accorded some degree of persuasive authority.

That which can bind or influence a court. Case law, legislation, constitutions, administrative regulations, and writings about the law are all legal authority. See primary authority; mandatory authority; persuasive authority.