Terms To Know If You’re New To Legal Writing

Legal writing is a daunting task for anyone, and it can be particularly intimidating if you don’t have much experience with it. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help you navigate the world of legal writing. This post will introduce you to some of those resources by explaining what they are and how they can be helpful.

Legal Writing Tips to Communicate Clearly & Effectively
1. Familiarize yourself with key legal terminology.
2. Understand the nuances of legal jargon.
3. Learn the basics of legal document structure.
4. Explore the significance of precision in legal writing.
5. Grasp the importance of clarity and conciseness.
6. Delve into the world of legal citations and references.
7. Gain insights into common legal abbreviations.
8. Study the art of crafting effective legal arguments.
9. Embrace the role of context in legal language.
10. Stay updated with evolving legal writing trends.


An affidavit is a sworn statement made by a person who has personal knowledge of the matter to which he or she is testifying. Affidavits are used in legal proceedings for several purposes, such as establishing facts and providing evidence.

Affidavits are also used to prove that a document was signed by someone else, or that an individual had access to certain information.

If you’ve ever bought the property in another state, you may have been asked to sign an affidavit stating that you were not aware of any faults with your new home before purchasing it.

Building a strong foundation in legal writing is essential for any aspiring legal professional. Our comprehensive guide on writing legal memos people want to read offers valuable insights and techniques to enhance your legal communication skills.


A brief is a written document submitted by the party that loses in the trial, asking the court to reconsider its ruling. Briefs can be used in all phases of litigation, but they’re most common during post-trial proceedings when appellate courts are reviewing a case.

For an appellate court to decide on whether it will hear an appeal or not, litigants must first submit briefs detailing their arguments and providing evidence supporting their position. 

These briefs are often accompanied by amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs from other interested individuals or organizations who wish to weigh in on the matter before them.

Case Law

Case law, also known as “precedent,” is the set of previous decisions of a court that are binding on a court that hears a case. 

The term “case law” comes from the fact that these decisions are written and published in legal treatises known as “reported cases.” Case law is not the same as statutory law or constitutional law, which are two other types of laws that can be found in common-law countries such as England and America.

For example:

If you’re arrested for drunk driving in London, your lawyer may argue that it would violate your right against self-incrimination under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) if you were forced by police officers to take an alcohol breath test without first being informed about how long it would take before they could administer one after arrest.[i] 

If this argument is successful at the trial level (called the first instance), then future cases brought before English courts involving similar circumstances will have access to this precedent decision.[ii]

Legal reasoning is a nuanced skill, and leveraging common sense can greatly improve your legal writing and analysis. Learn how to integrate common sense as a reasoning tool into your legal work to enhance your decision-making process.


A citation is a reference to a legal authority, usually in the form of a footnote or endnote. It’s used to show that the legal position you’ve taken is supported by some previous court decision or scholarly work. 

In practice, it should be in the same format as the original; for example, if your source has a “State v.” citation in brackets, then you should use that format when citing it yourself.


We’ll start with the complaint because it’s the first document filed in a civil lawsuit. The complaint names the parties and the court in which the lawsuit is being filed. 

It sets out all of your basic information facts about what happened when it happened, why you think it happened (giving rise to your cause of action), and what kind of damages you’re claiming as a result. But there’s more to a complaint than that; we’ll get into some of those details below:

  • who are we suing?
  • in what court did they live at the time of our claim? If they’ve moved since then, where do they live now?
  • what state laws apply here? Federal law too?

Default Judgment/Default Order

A default judgment is a judgment in a civil case that is rendered against a party who has failed to plead or otherwise defend against a claim.

Default order is an order issued by a judge or other court official in response to the failure of a party to appear at a hearing or other proceeding.

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It’s important to know the difference between a defendant and a respondent. The defendant is the person who is being sued; he or she is also called the plaintiff in some cases. The respondent, on the other hand, is the person being sued (alternatively known as an appellee).

This distinction can also apply when someone has been charged with committing a crime: if someone is charged with murder, for example, that person becomes their defendant because they’re accused of committing murder, and then they may be convicted by others who are acting as judges or juries in court trials. 

Similarly, if you were struck by another driver while walking on your street sidewalk during late-night hours when there was no traffic around and it was clearly not an accident but rather an intentional act of assault then you would become your respondent because you were being charged with certain crimes such as unlawful assault upon another person.

Property damage due to failing Not to yield right-of-way at crosswalks near intersections where stop signs have been installed but ignored by drivers who fail to stop before crossing over sidewalks like yours which have warning signs posted against stepping out into traffic lanes without first looking both ways!


The docket is the court’s official record of a case. It is also called a “case management system” and is sometimes referred to as the “court file.” The docket contains all documents filed in the case, including pleadings (government-filed documents), orders from judges and referees, transcripts from hearings or trials, exhibits used at trial, and other items submitted by attorneys. 

In most courts, there are separate dockets for civil cases (i.e., disputes between private parties) and criminal cases (i.e., disputes where someone has been accused of breaking the law).

The holdings in each case are listed chronologically in chronological order on the docket sheet or index sheet found at either end of every volume of court records; this list begins with entries showing when cases were first filed and ends with entries listing dispositions such as judgments or dismissals by motion. 

This type of list helps attorneys find information quickly because they can search through several volumes looking for specific dates rather than combing through each page individually looking for relevant information.

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Due Process Of Law

Due process of law is a legal concept encompassing the proper administration of justice. 

The right to due process is guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as similar provisions in many state constitutions. Due process deals with fundamental issues such as what it means to be treated fairly and how much protection you are entitled to under the law.

Due process generally includes:

  • The right to a fair trial
  • The right to be informed of charges against you, including evidence supporting those charges
  • The ability to have legal counsel if you cannot afford one
  • Rights related solely to criminal defendants (such as being innocent until proven guilty)

Evidentiary Hearing

An evidentiary hearing is a formal legal proceeding in which evidence is presented to a judge or panel of judges. It’s different from an ordinary trial in that there are no jurors, and it may take place outside of the courtroom (as opposed to being conducted in open court). The purpose of an evidentiary hearing is usually to resolve factual disputes between parties during litigation.

In contrast to trials, which take place after discovery has concluded, hearings may happen at any time throughout the lawsuit process even before discovery has concluded to resolve questions about whether certain evidence is admissible or not based on one of several rules set forth by each jurisdiction.


Hearsay is a statement that’s made outside of court and then brought up in court. It’s not allowed as evidence because it can’t be verified, but hearsay is only considered irrelevant or prejudicial if it has been ruled so by the judge. If you want to learn more about hearsay, check out this article from FindLaw: 

In Camera Review

In camera, review means the judge reviews the evidence in private, without allowing the parties and their lawyers to be present. The judge may allow them to be present, but only if they are not allowed to hear or see the evidence.

There are two reasons why a court might order an in-camera review:

  • If a party objects to part of a document, it will be reviewed by the judge without that information being shared with any other party or counsel;
  • If there is sensitive information contained within certain documents, then they will be kept confidential while they are reviewed by the judge.

In Propria Persona (Pro Se, P.P., Pro Per)

Pro se or pro per means that you are representing yourself in court. In other words, you aren’t hiring a lawyer (or paying for one of your own) to represent you.

There are many reasons why someone would choose to represent themselves in court: they want to save money, they want the experience of being on the other side of the table from an attorney and learning how it feels and works, they feel like they can do a better job than their lawyer might be able to do for them, etc. 

All of these reasons are valid ones! However, it’s important to remember that even if you have a lawyer on your side who is helping with some aspects of your case, there are still tasks that only YOU can perform as an individual party involved in litigation (such as filing motions or making court appearances). 

In these cases where there is no separate representation coming from an outside source (e.g., an attorney), we call this situation “pro se.”

An injunction (Temporary Restraining Order)

An injunction is a court order that says someone can’t do something, like use or sell their property, or stop another person from doing something. A temporary restraining order (TRO) is an emergency measure that’s issued if you file for the injunction quickly, without having notice of your case. 

They’re typically effective for up to 14 days and require you to go back to court after this period for a full hearing on whether the injunction should be granted permanently. Injunctions come in several types:

Specific performance: an injunction requiring one party to perform under contract with another party

Temporary restraining orders: orders preventing certain actions until a further hearing occurs; these usually last no more than 14 days before being renewed or converted into permanent injunctions


A lien is a legal claim on the property of another person to secure the payment of a debt or the performance of an obligation. A lien is a possessory interest in the property, which means that you have taken possession of something belonging to someone else such as real estate, and have a right to keep it until you are paid for work done or services rendered.

Motion For Continuance Or Continuance Of The Case, Motion To Adjourn The Case Or Motion To Postpone The Case Hearing Date

A motion for continuance is a request to postpone a court hearing or trial for a specific reason. A continuance can be requested by either the plaintiff or defendant, but not both at the same time.

A motion to adjourn is a request to temporarily stop all proceedings in the case until further notice. It’s usually used when legal counsel needs more time to prepare their client’s case or gather evidence that wasn’t previously available.

Motion In Limine (Motion To Exclude Certain Evidence)

A motion in limine is a request to exclude certain evidence from the trial. It can be filed at any time before or during the trial, but it’s most commonly filed before the trial starts. Prosecutors and defense attorneys may file a motion in limine to exclude unsuitable evidence or testimony from being presented to the jury.

For example, if you’re on trial for a murder charge, your lawyer might argue that some of your statements should not be allowed as evidence because they were obtained illegally (or “in violation of Miranda”). 

This is known as “confessions law” and refers to violations of Miranda v Arizona when police question suspects who are under arrest without first informing them of their rights.

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Opinion (Majority Opinion, Concurring Opinion, Dissenting Opinion)

The opinion is the judge’s written statement of the reasons for their decision. It is the judge’s interpretation of the law and his or her view of the case. 

The opinion may be accompanied by any number of other opinions, including concurrences (judges who agree with the part but not all of a majority opinion), dissents (judges who disagree with part or all of a majority opinion), and separate concurrences or dissents.

Petitioner/Plaintiff/Complainant/Prosecutor (Or Process)

A person who initiates a lawsuit. “Petitioner” is a term used by the Supreme Court of the United States and in some state courts, while “plaintiff” is more common in federal courts. 

The terms “prosecutor” and “complainant” are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing: a party who initiates a lawsuit. However, there are differences between these terms; for example, in criminal cases, prosecutors represent the government against defendants who are accused of crimes or misconduct.


The word “precedent” is a term that you have probably heard before, but may not know what it means. In legal writing, precedent refers to one case that is legally binding on another with similar facts. Precedent can be used to interpret statutes, rules, and regulations, as well as cases themselves.

For an earlier decision or ruling (which has been agreed upon by courts) to be considered binding in a later case with similar facts, the court must apply the same reasoning used in making its decision in the previous case (i.e., there must exist a logical relationship between both decisions).

Procedural And Substantive Law

Procedural law is the rules of the game things like how to file a motion or what’s required to bring a claim. Substantive law is the rules of the game that you can’t change like what happens if you win your motion and get an injunction, or how long your lawsuit has to be before it’s dismissed. 

Procedural law is subjectively determined by judges, while substantive laws are based on statutes or case precedent (i.e., common law).

Substantive laws are often more important than procedural ones because they grant disabled people legal protections so they can live their lives safely without fear of being discriminated against by others who disregard their rights under these laws.


We hope this list has helped you understand legal writing a little better. Legal writing is a tough field to get into, but once you’re in there, it’s a great way to make money and help people who need it most. 

If you have any questions about these terms or other legal writing topics, please don’t hesitate to ask us in the comment section! We’ll be happy to answer whatever questions you may have.

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources to help you delve deeper into the world of legal writing:

Legal Writing Tips for Lawyers Short Description: Explore essential tips and techniques for enhancing your legal writing skills in this comprehensive guide tailored specifically for lawyers.

Abbreviate to Illustrate: A New Approach to Legal Writing Short Description: Discover a fresh perspective on legal writing that involves using abbreviations strategically to improve clarity and impact.

10 Tips from Legal Writing Experts Short Description: Learn from seasoned legal writing experts with these ten invaluable tips to refine your writing skills and effectively communicate legal concepts.


How can I improve my legal writing as a beginner?

As a beginner, focus on practicing concise and clear writing. Pay attention to proper organization and structure in your legal documents.

What role does formatting play in effective legal writing?

Formatting is crucial in legal writing, as it enhances readability and comprehension. Proper headings, bullet points, and font choices can make your content more accessible.

Are there any common mistakes I should avoid in legal writing?

Yes, common mistakes include overly complex language, lack of clarity, and inconsistency. Proofreading and seeking feedback can help you identify and rectify these errors.

How can I make my legal writing more persuasive?

To make your legal writing more persuasive, use compelling arguments backed by evidence. Incorporate persuasive language while maintaining a professional tone.

What resources can I use to expand my legal writing skills?

Apart from the provided resources, consider legal writing workshops, courses, and style guides offered by reputable institutions to further enhance your skills.