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Legal Terms To Know Before Law School

April 14, 2023


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 01/16/23

There are a lot of legal terms to know before going into law school. To help you best prepare for law school, we’ve created a comprehensive list of some important legal terms to know for future law students. 

Starting law school is, at once, an exciting but overwhelming time for aspiring lawyers. There is a lot to do and a lot to know to prepare. Law school is known for being pretty difficult for students. Being as prepared as possible when you begin your journey is key to a smooth transition into the life of a law student. 

You’ve done the hard work of passing your LSAT and getting accepted into the law school of your choice. And while there is still a lot of hard work to do, we’re here to help you along the way. 

We’ve compiled a list of legal terms to know before going to law school so you can get a quick overview of important definitions to make the transition into the semester smoother. Continue reading for the list below!

Legal Terms To Know Before Going To Law School

Here are some commonly used legal terms that every law student should be familiar with. You may have never heard of some of these terms before, and that’s okay. You’re just starting out. Getting started on the prep work now by making sure you understand some foundational terminology is a great step in progress. 

Once you’re familiar with this list of legal terms to know before law school, check out a list of books to read before starting law school!

1L, 2L, 3L

Abbreviations represent the students’ year of study. For example, 2L means a second-year student. 


Stands for the American Bar Association. 


To confirm, ratify, or approve. This term is often used in court.   


The individual who appeals a decision made in their case to a higher court. Someone requesting a higher court to review a decision made in a lower court would be an example of an appellant. 


The person or persons against whom the appeal is taken. They respond to the appeal claim and either accept the appeal or affirm the court’s first decision.  

Bar Exam

The exam that almost all lawyers must pass before being allowed to practice law. The bar exam is often referred to as ‘the bar.’ 


The most commonly used citation manual for the legal profession in the U.S. Legal citations in court documents and law journals follow the Bluebook guide. 


Stands for Center for Computer-Assigned Legal Instruction. A resource used by most law schools that compiles educational resources for registered law students. 

Case Book

A type of textbook that is largely used by law students. The Case Book describes cases in which a certain law was applied. Rather than just giving a definition or description of a law, case books will demonstrate how the law was used and applied in the court. 

Case Brief

A condensed, concise version of the most important information in a case and its materials. Case briefs are used so students can digest the mass amounts of information in a case. 

Civ Pro

Short for Civil Procedure. Civil Procedure deals with rules and procedures of civil (non-criminal) disputes. Civil cases include things such as injury, defamation, medical malpractice, and fraud. Monetary and/or punitive damages are usually the outcome of a civil procedure case. 


Refers to an individual creating, recording, and maintaining business records. Young law students often clerk for law firms when they are starting law school. 


A legal clinic is a program, usually hosted by legal aid or a law school, providing services to clients to give law students hands-on experience. 

For example, among many others, Yale Law School has a Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic. The clinic allows law students to represent individuals who have been affected by the criminal justice system. 

Common Law

Refers to a body of unwritten laws established by the courts based on previous rulings. Common law is not written down in legislation. Common law is also known as case law. Examples of common laws include doctor-patient confidentiality, copyright, and common-law marriage.   

Con Law

Short for Constitutional Law. 


Short for Criminal Law.  


The compensation given to a plaintiff in civil lawsuits. An example of monetary damages given could be covering medical expenses or replacing damaged property.  


A person who is accused of a criminal proceeding or being sued. The defendant is the person in court who is defending themselves from the charges.  


Also called the dissenting opinion, the dissent is the disagreement between one or more judges against the majority opinion about a case. A dissenting opinion may highlight the potential issues or conflicts that may arise from a decision. 

Habeas Corpus

A writ that outlines what protects individuals from unjust and indefinite imprisonment. Under Habeas Corpus, individuals can request an inquest into their detainment. 

This means that people have the right to go in front of a court, which will then decide whether the person should be detained or not. The writ means there has to be a reasonable belief that a person committed a crime to actually detain them. In lay terms, it prevents people from being illegally detained. 


A court ruling.  


Stands for “Issues, Rule, Application, Conclusion.” It is the structure for most legal essays. 


The process of taking legal action. The first step to bringing a lawsuit against someone. During the litigation process, a judge needs to decide whether there is enough evidence to move the case forward. 


The acronym for “Law School Admissions Test,” the standard test for law school admission.


A request made to a judge to make a decision about something relating to a case. For example, someone can make a motion to introduce new evidence into the case. 


An acronym for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination. The MPRE is a two-hour, 60-question multiple-choice test required for admission to the bar exam in all but two U.S. jurisdictions (Puerto Rico and Wisconsin). 


Refers to the party who requests the Supreme Court to review a case. 


The party who brings legal action to an issue. For example, the plaintiff is the one suing someone, and the defendant is the person being sued.  


Previous rulings and decisions in cases that set the standard for other court rulings. It is a legal decision that will likely be used in, or at least influence, decisions in similar cases. 

An example of a court ruling that set precedent is Brown v. Board of Education. This decision set the standard for future cases relating to issues of education and desegregation.  

Pro Bono

Refers to legal work done for free when people cannot afford legal services. Thirty-nine law schools in the U.S. require students to complete a set number of hours doing pro bono work


A person who works for the state and government in criminal cases to prosecute the accused.  


The person who responds to legal action brought towards them. 


Stands for The Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and has jurisdiction over all federal court cases. 


A branch of civil law that protects individuals’ rights, reputation, property, and privacy. Torts seek to compensate for the wrongs done against individuals in non-criminal cases. Trespassing falls under intentional torts. 


Acronym for the Uniform Bar Examination. The UBE is a standardized Bar Exam, and scores can be transferred across states that also administer the test. 


Stands for Uniform Commercial Code. It is a set of laws that oversees all commercial transactions in the United States. 

These are just some of the important legal terms to know before you start law school. There is a lot of information here, so don’t worry if you feel a bit overwhelmed! Take your time to review these terms before you start the semester, and you’ll already have a good head start.

Other Important Tips For Law School 

You’re already demonstrating initiative and dedication to your studies by seeking out important legal terms to know before you begin law school. There are other important pieces of information that will help you prepare for law school. 

Infographic outlining important tips for law schools

Find the Right School 

This may seem obvious, but picking the right law school for you plays a huge role in your academic success. 

Do some research and look at statistics such as class size, faculty research areas, tuition costs, location, courses, and campus culture at different schools. 

If the school you attend doesn’t fit your needs and goals, you may find yourself struggling. 

Prep for the LSAT 

Again, this may seem like a no-brainer, but your LSAT score can impact what schools you get accepted into. Create a strong study plan and take the LSAT seriously. Most law schools do take scores into heavy consideration. 

To maximize your LSAT score and increase your chances of getting into the law school of your choice, Juris Education offers personalized, one-on-one LSAT tutoring. LSAT tutors have years of experience, and Juris Education offers various tiers of tutoring to best suit everyone’s individual needs. 

There are law schools that do not require the LSAT for admission if you are struggling with the LSAT or didn’t get the score you were hoping for. 

Find Scholarships

Law school is expensive. Do some research to find scholarships to help fund your education. You can find tons of opportunities online. A quick Google search can alleviate financial strain and reduce student loans for students. 

Get Work Experience

Another helpful tip before you begin law school is to seek out work experience that will benefit your academic career as a law student. Getting work experience that law schools look for on applications and resumes will give you opportunities to hone skills that will serve you well as a law student. 

In fact, students with relevant work experience tend to perform better in law school than those who do not.  

This all seems like a lot of work, and honestly, it is. But starting on applications for schools and looking into scholarships as early as possible will make the workload much more manageable.

FAQs: Legal Terms For Law Students

Still have questions about legal terms for law students? No problem! We answer some frequently asked questions below.

1. Why Are Law Students Called 1L?

L is often used to refer to the year of law school a student is in. So, 1L means first-year law student. 

The use of 1L was popularized by Scott Turow’s autobiography titled One L, where he writes about his experiences as a first-year law student at Harvard

2. What Is a 2L Student?

Similar to 1L, 2L means second-year law student. Accordingly, 3L means third-year law student. 

3. What Are the Most Important Legal Terms for Law Students To Know?

This is a hard question to answer because, in reality, there are no select few terms that are more important than others. For 1L students, getting familiar with acronyms and short forms (like the ABA, UBE, Crim Law, etc.) will probably be the most important terms to know as you begin law school. 

Having an understanding of the basic terminology of case proceedings (such as litigation, plaintiff, holding, etc.) and the various types of law (criminal law, civil law, etc.) are also important legal terms for law students starting their first year. 

The terms listed in this article are all foundational and common legal terms that you should know before starting law school. However, there are other terms that are important to know when preparing for a legal career.

Final Thoughts

Language is an essential component of not only succeeding in law school but also practicing law itself. The ability to unpack the meaning and context of language is a skill that all law students need to master. This will become easier with practice and time. 

If you are concerned about knowing the most important legal terms, familiarize yourself with our list as you enter your first year. As you progress through law school, you will learn more and more terms and words that will increase your comprehension of important legal terms.

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