Learning the Lingo in Law Schools

Law schools are unique places. They have their own customs, traditions, exam structures, and even lingo. You can find many legal terms, such as certioraristare decisis, and dicta, in Black's Law Dictionary. What follows are some colloquial terms that you're likely to hear in law schools and in the application process, along with their definitions.

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1L, 2L, and 3L

Student reading
Getty Images/VStock LLC/Tanya Constantine

First-year law student, second-year law student, and third-year law student. You may also see 0L, which is either someone who is applying to law school​ or someone who has been accepted to law school but hasn't started yet.

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Black Letter Law

Generally accepted rules of law. As a law student, you'll be asked to apply laws to facts, but certain laws are generally accepted legal principles. Examples include the definition of a contract or the elements of a particular crime.

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Blue Book

A small book with a blue cover that contains all the rules you need to know regarding the citation of cases, statutes, and other legal materials when writing legal documents.

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Canned Brief

The commercial version of a case brief. Many supplements contain canned briefs.

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The summary of a case, which includes the facts, issue at hand, rule of law, holding, and rationale. More »

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Case Book

Your law school textbook, which includes cases (to the near exclusion of anything else) in order to illustrate the evolution and/or application of black letter law. You are generally assigned cases to read which are then discussed in class.

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Forest for the Trees

Although this isn't a term exclusive to law school, you're likely to hear it a lot there. It refers to the fact that as you learn tidbits of law from a whole lot of cases, you must not lose sight of the larger body of law into which they fit. This is, indeed, your entire challenge as you face final exams.

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Hornbook

A collection of black letter law in one volume.

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IP

Intellectual property, which includes copyrights, trademark, and patent law.

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Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion; i.e. how you should format your exam answers. Don't try to be creative on exams—once you spot the issue or issues, just follow the IRAC method. More »

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A student-run journal that publishes articles written by law professors, judges, and other legal professionals. You may also see the term "law journals," which refers to not only Law Reviews but also other legal journals a school may have. More »

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LEXIS/WESTLAW

Online legal research tools. You'll probably have a strong preference for one over the other by your second semester, but they both get the job done.

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Competition during which students participate in the preparation and arguing of cases in front of judges. More »

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A self-prepared summary of an entire course within 20-40 pages. These will be your primary study material when exam time arrives.

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Restatements

Distillations of the law written by legal scholars and published by the American Law Institute, intended to help clarify, show trends, and even recommend future rules of law.

Type of questioning common in law schools during which professors ask question after question, seeking to expose contradictions in the students’ thoughts and ideas to then guide them to arrive at a solid, tenable conclusion. More »

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Study Group

A group of law students that studies together. Generally, students do their reading assignments and then come to the group ready to discuss what might be discussed in class, what has already been covered in class, or both. More »

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Supplement

Study aid that helps illustrate black letter law. Supplements can be quite helpful if you're struggling with one particular concept, but always defer to what your professor stresses as important.  It is also important to manage your time wisely, so save the supplemental reading until after you’ve already attended class.

One of the most famous concepts surrounding law schools is that they don't teach you the law—they teach you to "think like a lawyer." You will pick up law along the way too, but the main point of law school is, indeed, to get you to think critically, analytically, and most importantly, methodically, through legal questions. It is this process, rather than specific laws (which can change at any time and that you'll have to look up anyway) that will help you be successful throughout your career.

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Tort

A civil wrong. This is the first-year course that covers concepts like negligence, product liability, and medical malpractice. Basically, one person has injured another, and a lawsuit results.