Monday, September 13th, 2010...11:00 am

Finding the meaning of legal terms for free

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A mistake I made coming into law school was buying a legal dictionary. It’s not that you won’t have to look up some words while you’re reading those cases that were written early 20th century in some combination of legalspeak, old-timey, and Latin; because you will.  It’s that even in the good old days of 2004 (when I walked uphill through three feet of snow to get to law school for at least 20 minutes without an iPhone), you could find most legal definitions onMight as well just throw my money away the web by simply Googling. For me anyway, looking a legal term up online in the middle of reading a case was easier than fumbling through a book.

So I paid $40 – student loan money, of course – prior to first semester for a paper dictionary I never cracked open. Like everyone who goes to law school, I’m no good at math; but I can only estimate that $40 out of my student loan check is something like $1.7 million over the course of a 30-year student loan term.

Nowadays it’s even easier for a confused 1L to figure out what Res Ipsa Loquitur means using free internet resources. One reason it’s easier, and why I’m bringing this up, is that we at LII just partnered with Nolo to add their Plain English Law Dictionary definitions to our free, collaboratively-built law dictionary we call Wex – and even Lifehacker noticed.

And I’ll admit, using Wex in law school as a free alternative to a commonly recommended legal dictionary (which we won’t name…) is not a terribly original idea. I kind of stole it from Lee Sims, a Librarian of at UConn Law, who just posted on UConn Law Library blog about using Wex as a replacement legal dictionary (…but Lee will).

So, law students, think before you spend money on that legal dictionary prior to first year. If you’re just trying to understand an obscure word in a case, and you’re more comfortable using internet sources anyway, you will probably be able to get what you need through free online alternatives to a paper legal dictionary, like Wex and simple internet searches.


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