Home » Decoding Legal Jargon: Understanding Case Law Terminology

Decoding Legal Jargon: Understanding Case Law Terminology 

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Understanding case law is crucial for legal practitioners, but complex legal jargon can often be a barrier. This blog post aims to demystify common legal terms and phrases found in case law, making it easier for practitioners to understand and apply legal cases and documents. 

Amicus Curiae

Definition: Amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” refers to a person or organization not a party to a case who offers information, expertise, or insights relevant to the issues.

Application: Amicus curiae briefs can provide additional perspectives and help the court make informed decisions. Practitioners may seek support from amicus curiae to bolster their arguments.

Collateral Estoppel

Definition: Collateral estoppel, also known as issue preclusion, prevents the re-litigation of issues that have been previously adjudicated in a court of law.

Application: This doctrine ensures judicial efficiency and consistency by barring parties from re-arguing the same issue in subsequent lawsuits. Practitioners use collateral estoppel to dismiss claims or defenses already decided.

Concurring Opinion

Definition: A concurring opinion is an opinion written by a judge who agrees with the majority’s decision but has different reasoning or wishes to emphasize a specific point.

Application: Concurring opinions offer additional perspectives and can clarify or expand on the majority’s reasoning. They are useful for understanding the nuances of a case and the various legal principles at play.

Declaratory Judgment

Definition: A declaratory judgment is a court statement that determines the rights of parties without ordering any specific action or awarding damages.

Application: Declaratory judgments are used to resolve legal uncertainties and define the legal relationship between parties. Practitioners seek declaratory relief to clarify their client’s rights and obligations under the law.

De Novo Review

Definition: De novo review is a standard of review where the appellate court reexamines the lower court’s decision without deferring to its findings.

Application: In de novo review, the appellate court considers the issue anew, as if it had not been previously heard. Practitioners should prepare to argue their case from scratch when this standard applies.

Dissenting Opinion

Definition: A dissenting opinion is an opinion written by one or more judges who disagree with the majority decision in a case.

Application: While dissenting opinions are not binding, they can be influential in shaping future legal arguments and decisions. They provide alternative viewpoints and can highlight potential flaws in the majority’s reasoning.

Ex Parte

Definition: Ex parte refers to legal proceedings or actions taken by or for one party without the presence or participation of the opposing party.

Application: Ex parte applications are typically used in urgent situations where notifying the other party would be impractical or cause undue delay. Practitioners must justify the need for ex parte relief and demonstrate that immediate action is necessary.

Forum Non Conveniens

Definition: Forum non conveniens is a doctrine that allows a court to dismiss a case if another court or forum is more appropriate for hearing the case.

Application: Practitioners use this doctrine to argue for dismissal or transfer of a case to a more suitable jurisdiction, based on factors like convenience, location of evidence, and fairness to parties.


Definition: The holding of a case is the court’s determination of a matter of law based on the issue presented. It is the decision that directly resolves the dispute between the parties.

Application: The holding is the core outcome of a case and is crucial for identifying the precedent established. Legal practitioners rely on the holding to understand how the law was applied to the specific facts of the case.

In Camera

Definition: In camera, meaning “in the chamber,” refers to proceedings or documents reviewed privately by the judge, outside the presence of the jury and public.

Application: In camera reviews are used to protect sensitive information, such as trade secrets or privileged communications. Practitioners may request in camera reviews to ensure confidentiality while allowing the judge to consider critical evidence.


Definition: An injunction is a court order requiring a party to do or refrain from doing specific acts.

Application: Injunctions are used to prevent harm or preserve the status quo pending the outcome of a case. Practitioners must demonstrate that irreparable harm will occur without the injunction and that it is in the public interest.

Interlocutory Injunction

Definition: An interlocutory injunction is a temporary court order issued during the course of litigation, intended to maintain the status quo until the final decision is made.

Application: Practitioners seek interlocutory injunctions to prevent imminent harm that cannot be remedied by damages. These are critical in cases where waiting for a final judgment would result in irreversible damage.


Definition: Jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court to hear and decide a case. It can be based on geographic area, subject matter, or the parties involved.

Application: Understanding jurisdiction is essential for determining which court’s decisions are relevant to your case. It also helps in identifying the appropriate venue for filing a lawsuit or an appeal.

Mens Rea

Definition: Mens rea, or “guilty mind,” refers to the mental state or intent required to commit a crime.

Application: Understanding mens rea is essential for distinguishing between different levels of criminal culpability, such as negligence, recklessness, and intentional wrongdoing. Practitioners must establish the appropriate mens rea to prove or defend against criminal charges.

Proximate Cause

Definition: Proximate cause is a legal concept that relates to the primary cause of an injury. It is the cause that is legally sufficient to result in liability.

Application: Establishing proximate cause is essential in negligence cases. Practitioners must demonstrate that the defendant’s actions were closely connected to the harm suffered and that it was foreseeable.


Definition: To remand a case is to send it back to the lower court for further proceedings consistent with the higher court’s ruling.

Application: A remand occurs when an appellate court finds that the lower court made an error or needs to conduct further fact-finding. Practitioners must be prepared to continue litigating the case in the lower court after a remand.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Definition: Res ipsa loquitur, meaning “the thing speaks for itself,” is a doctrine used in tort law to infer negligence from the mere occurrence of certain types of accidents, even without direct evidence of the defendant’s actions.

Application: This doctrine applies when the nature of the accident implies negligence, such as a surgical instrument left inside a patient after surgery. Practitioners use res ipsa loquitur to shift the burden of proof to the defendant to show that they were not negligent.

Res Judicata

Definition: Res judicata, or “a matter judged,” is a legal doctrine that prevents the same parties from relitigating a case that has been finally decided on its merits.

Application: Res judicata ensures finality and judicial efficiency by barring repetitive lawsuits. Practitioners must be aware of this doctrine to avoid unnecessary litigation and to understand when a case is conclusively resolved.

Stare Decisis

Definition: Stare decisis is a Latin term meaning “to stand by things decided.” It is the legal principle that courts should follow precedents set by previous decisions.

Application: This principle ensures consistency and predictability in the law. When a court applies stare decisis, it adheres to the rulings of higher courts or its own previous decisions unless there is a compelling reason to overturn them.

Summary Judgment

Definition: Summary judgment is a procedural device used to promptly dispose of a case without a trial. It is granted when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Application: Summary judgment can be a powerful tool for resolving cases efficiently. Practitioners must present compelling evidence and legal arguments to demonstrate that there are no disputed facts requiring a trial.


Definition: Tolling is the legal suspension or extension of the statute of limitations, allowing a lawsuit to be filed after the normal deadline has passed due to specific circumstances.

Application: Practitioners seek tolling to extend the time for filing a lawsuit when circumstances such as fraud, concealment, or the plaintiff’s incapacity prevent timely filing. Understanding tolling is crucial for preserving their client’s legal rights.


Definition: Venue refers to the specific geographic location where a case is heard, determined by factors such as the location of the parties, the subject matter of the dispute, and statutory requirements.

Application: Practitioners must choose the proper venue to ensure jurisdiction and convenience for their clients. Incorrect venue selection can result in dismissal or

Comprehend case law with ease with Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB)

Understanding and applying legal terms and phrases is crucial for navigating case law and developing effective legal strategies. Familiarity with legal jargon not only aids in comprehending judicial opinions but also empowers practitioners to articulate their positions more persuasively in court. CEB offers comprehensive resources and updates that allow lawyers to maintain a thorough understanding of the legal landscape with its many online resources:

CEB Practitioner:

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