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Useful Legal Terms for Paralegals

Paralegals are required to understand legal terms as part of their work. Following are sample of terms from the Glossary of Legal Terms listed on the website for the New York State Unified Court System.

  • Acquit: the act of declaring a person is innocent of a formal charge
  • Action: a civil judicial proceeding where one party prosecutes another for a wrongdoing, or to protect a right or prevent a wrongdoing
  • Adjournment: a temporary postponement of a case
  • Adjudicate: to hear or try in a court
  • Adversary system: the system of trial practice in the U.S. where each opposing, or adversary, party presents its contentions to a court
  • Amicus curiae: means “a friend of the court” and is a document submitted to a court by an outside party to present its views on the case
  • Answer: a paper submitted by a that responds to the allegations of the plaintiff
  • Appeal: a request to have a case examined by an appropriate higher court to see if a lower court’s decision was incorrect
  • Appellant: the party who takes an appeal to a higher court
  • Arbitration: the process when a dispute is given to a person appointed by the court (arbitrator) to make a decision and/or award in its place
  • Award: the decision of an Arbitrator
  • Bail: the security given (or posted) to ensure a defendant will make a court appearance
  • Brief: a document prepared by lawyers on each side of a dispute and submitted to the court to support their arguments. It includes points of law the lawyers want to establish, their arguments, and legal authorities on which they rest their conclusions.
  • Common law: the body of law that originated in England and upon which U.S. law is based
  • Complaint: the initial action by a plaintiff that formally states the reasons for the suit and presents supporting facts
  • Cross- examination: the questioning of a witness by an adverse party or its attorney
  • Damages: Monetary compensation or payment for wrong or injury caused by the violation of a legal right. Compensatory damages reimburse for a loss or injury. Exemplary damages are monetary awards that can be added to punish the party that caused the injury through aggravated circumstances or malice. Punitive damages can be added on to pay for a “gross wrong.”
  • Decree: a decision or order of the court
  • Default: an action that occurs when a defendant does not enter a plea or defend himself within the time allowed, or fails to appear at trial
  • Defendant: the party being sued or accused of committing an offense
  • Discovery/disclosure: a proceeding where one party informs the other about facts that will be introduced in the case
  • Dismissal: the end of a proceeding as determined by a judge when facts presented by the plaintiff are incomplete. A dismissal with prejudice prevents the plaintiff from bringing up the same charges to the same party again. A dismissal without prejudice allows the case to be brought up again
  • Eminent domain: the power for the government to take private property for public use without the owner’s consent, but with “just compensation”
  • Evidence: an item presented at the trial intended to prove a party’s contention and influence the decisions of the court or jury
  • Exhibit: a paper, document or other article accepted by a court as evidence
  • Garnish: to attach a portion of wages or property of a debtor to send to the party that is owed the debt
  • Hearing: a preliminary court examination where evidence is presented to determine facts and decide if further action is needed
  • Hearsay: testimony from a witness about events he or she has not actually witnessed but heard about from a third party; may be admissible depending upon rules of evidence
  • Hung jury: a jury whose members cannot reach a verdict
  • Interrogatories: written questions from one adversarial party to another, that must be answered in writing and under oath
  • Intestate: a person who dies without a will
  • Judgment: a determination of the rights of the parties in an action or special proceeding. A judgment shall refer to and state the result of a verdict or decision, or recite the circumstances on which it is based.
  • Jurisdiction: the areas in which a court can participate, usually defined by geography, subject of the case, and the amount of monetary damages sought
  • Jury: a prescribed number of persons selected according to law and sworn to determine the facts of a case
  • Liability: (1) an obligation to do, eventually do, or refrain from doing something; (2) money owed by a party or that party’s responsibility; or (3) responsibility for causing an injury
  • Lien: a claim upon the property of another for security of a debt
  • Litigant: a party to a legal action
  • Motion: an oral or written request to the court made by a party or lawyer for a ruling or order
  • Subpoena: the legal process that orders a witness to appear and testify in court
  • Trial: the formal court process of a legal controversy
  • Witness: person who testifies to what he/she has seen, heard, or observed

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that graduates of paralegal programs have a significant advantage to compete for entry-level jobs. Currently, there are more than 230,000 paralegals practicing in the U.S.The field is expected to grow much more quickly than other professions.

Anthem College’s online paralegal degree program offers Associate of Science degree.  Visit us online to learn more and view our catalog, or call 1.866.837.1010.


New York State Unified Court System. “Glossary of Legal Terms.” Web, n.d.

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