Important Legal Terms

News reporting and writing demands accuracy and clarity.  Whether you’re covering a trial, a legal proceeding, a real estate story, a story about medicine, or any one of many topics, you may encounter terminology or jargon you don’t really understand.

If you’re interviewing someone, particularly a lawyer or District Attorney, it is entirely appropriate to ask them to explain a term they’ve used if you don’t understand it.  You’re the link to public, and to help the public understand the story, you have to understand the story’s elements.  The same is true when you’re interviewing any professional.  Each discipline has its own distinct jargon, and if you don’t understand what they’re saying, ask.  You won’t look dumb.

There are many online resources to give you a quick explanation of terms you’ll encounter in reading police reports, court documents, or municipal government stories.

One quick online resource is, where you can quickly search for a legal term, a definition, or a database of legal terminology.  It’s clear and easy to use, and has three main search engines on the home page.

Another which is widely used by legal professionals is FindLaw, where you can enter a legal term and it delivers an understandable definition.

The Free Dictionary allows you to click on a list of common legal terms and categories to get an in-depth explanation.

Another site has the capabilities to look up medical terms, legal abbreviations, and even computer terms.

The key is – don’t be afraid to ask, and make sure you know what you’re writing and talking about.