or 1Ls, part of the challenge of adjusting to law school life is not just coming to terms with the fact that early morning classes are unavoidable, but learning how to communicate in a totally new language. Legal terminology is riddled with Latin phrases and strange-sounding words that look like English, but sound like gibberish. I mean, you don’t see “estop” signs on street corners, after all.
Mastering this vocabulary is critical to success on final exams, not to mention crucial for excelling on legal writing and research assignments, so most new law students turn to the old standby, Black’s Law Dictionary. Since 1891, this has been the gold standard of legal reference books, and is the most widely used legal dictionary today.
Before I began law school, to my great delight, my family presented me with a handsome leather-bound dictionary of my very own. While useful for helping me translate legal terminology, this massive tome was too heavy and unwieldy to transport to school, so I ended up leaving it at home, defeating its purpose. Fortunately, technology once again has come to the rescue, and there are a number of ways to access legal definitions and terminology without lugging around eight pounds of dictionary.
As a law student, you will be able to access an unabridged version of Black’s Law Dictionary through your personal Westlaw account, and if you have $55 knocking around, you can splurge on a mobile version for your Android or Apple device. You can also use your LexisNexis account to access an online version of Ballentine’s Law Dictionary.
But, law school is all about getting by on a shoestring budget, so you’ll be happy to know that there are a variety of free resources to help you decode all the legalese coming your way.
Law.com offers a free online legal word search that comes with the added bonus of not requiring you to login every time you want to use it. And there are other free legal dictionary apps for your iPhone or iPod Touch, such as Nolo’s Plain English Law Dictionary, the Free Law Dictionary by Redvok, and Legal Terms by US Legal.
Now, we want to know, how are you building your legal vocabulary and what are some of your favorite new terms?