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Finding General Legal Explanations and Definitions: Legal Dictionaries


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Many legal terms have developed very complex and specific meanings. This makes a legal dictionary a necessity for anyone seeking to understand the law. Like regular dictionaries, legal dictionaries arrange terms alphabetically. Entries tend to derive from legal sources and may conain citations to authority like cases or statutes. If you do not find a term in one dictionary, be sure to check another since each dictionary is unique.

The Reference section of the Eckstein Law Library offers several general legal dictionaries, many of which begin with the call number KF156. Specialized legal dictionaries, as well as general or subject-specific dictionaries, are also available. Search MarqCat or ask a Reference Librarian for assistance.

Legal Dictionaries

Words & Phrases

West's Words and Phrases (Reference KF156 .W67 and Westlaw) has some features of a legal dictionary. This is a multiple volume set which digests court opinions, federal and state, that define legal terms. Definitions are arranged alphabetically. It is much more detailed than either Black's or Ballentine's and should be used for locating definitions when more detailed information is necessary. Citations to cases and to the West Key Number system are included. Use pocket parts to check for more recent definitions. (The set in the Eckstein Law Library is no longer updated.)

In addition to the Words and Phrases set, you will find Words and Phrases volumes as part of West digests. If your interest is in how courts within a particular jurisdiction have defined a term or phrase, these volumes can be useful. The Federal Practice Digest and West's Wisconsin Key Number Digest are on the First Floor of the Eckstein Law Library. Select state and regional digests (no longer updated) are on the Third Floor. In Westlaw, use the "wp" field abbreviation or the Words & Phrases field in the Advanced Search template for cases to search for definitions within case law databases.