Monday, August 17, 2009

Law in Plain English

Legal terminology is full of confusing Latin phrases; even everyday English words can take on a different meaning in the legal context (such as willful or consideration). Legal dictionaries such as Black’s Law Dictionary (Ref KF156 .B53 and on Westlaw) provide some help, but often the definitions themselves contain more confusing terms to be looked up.

When you just need a quick, simple translation from legalese to English, there are a few web-based resources that can help.

The Goodson Law Library owns many of the Nolo legal self-help book series, which provide basic, general explanations of various areas of law. A similar series of books by Oceana Press, “Law for the Layperson”, is also available in the library’s Reference collection. Many of these titles and call numbers can be found in our research guide to “Legal Research for Non-Lawyers” (

Additional titles, such as How the Courts Work: A Plain English Explanation of the American Legal System (KF387 .E54 2008), can be found in the libraries’ online catalog with a subject keyword search for Law -- United States -- Popular works.