Mastering Legal Terminology: Introduction to Abbreviations and More

Posted by Texas A&M School of Law on Sep 30, 2022 9:00:00 AM

As a law student or budding legal professional, you've come across an overwhelming array of abbreviations. These abbreviations reference various degree programs, legal procedures, and professional organizations.

Keeping all this straight can feel overwhelming even for vetted professionals, but it's particularly difficult when you're just starting to consider a career in law. To help, we've compiled a guide to basic legal terminology that breaks down the many abbreviations you'll encounter in both academic and professional life.

What Are the Most Common Law Abbreviations and Acronyms?

Legal abbreviations take many forms. Some you may encounter on a near-daily basis, while others are decidedly niche. Below, we've highlighted a few of the most frequently used legal abbreviations that denote law degrees and basic legal terminology.

Law Degree Abbreviations

J.D.: Juris Doctor

Easily the most familiar acronym mentioned in this guide, J.D. is short for Juris Doctor or Doctor of Jurisprudence. Achieving this degree is the first step to becoming a respected attorney. Despite its graduate-level status, this degree is regarded as the entry-level option for aspiring legal professionals.

LL.M.: Master of Laws

Technically speaking, doctorates are typically thought of as terminal degrees. With the Master of Laws, however, this approach looks a bit different. Typically obtained after a J.D., this advanced degree encourages legal professionals to delve into specific practice areas. This degree is also available to students who have obtained their initial law degrees outside of the U.S.

MLS or M.Jur: Master of Legal Studies or Master of Jurisprudence 

Not everyone who seeks legal training intends to ultimately work as a lawyer. Those with alternate plans may prefer the Master of Jurisprudence or Master of Legal Studies, which provide in-depth insight to help professionals boost their careers in human resources, health care, real estate, and many other fields. 

LL.B.: Bachelor of Laws

Phased out in the U.S. several decades ago, the Bachelor of Laws remains a relevant program in the U.K., China, Hong Kong, South Africa, and elsewhere. In some nations, the LL.B. is the primary route for entering the legal profession.

Legal Term Abbreviations

SOL: Statute of Limitations

Sometimes referred to as a prescriptive period, the statute of limitations determines how long after an event plaintiffs are permitted to initiate legal proceedings.

PL: Public Law

Bills enacted by Congress are assigned numbers by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Preceded by the abbreviation PL (for public law), these are published as slip laws and made available via the Government Publishing Office (GPO).

CL: Common Law

Derived from the judicial system rather than specific statutes, common law relies on detailed court records. The abbreviation CL can be used in many contexts — even designating degree concentrations for some Master of Laws programs.

DBA: Doing Business As

Also known as assumed or trade names, DBA allows businesses to operate under alternative titles. This is a common solution for sole proprietors and general partners.

GC: General Counsel

As the head of a legal department, the general counsel is the main source of legal advice. GCs often serve as trusted advisors for CEOs and other executives. They may also serve governmental departments.

People Court Abbreviations

JMOL: Judgment as a Matter of Law

Not to be confused with summary judgment, this in-trial motion should be made prior to submission to the jury. The phrase "motion for a directed verdict" is often used in lieu of the JMOL acronym.

S/J: Summary Judgment

This motion strives to avoid a full trial. Parties who pursue this approach typically believe that the facts of a given case are not sufficiently within question to warrant a trial. Hence, the use of a motion that asks courts to consider these allegedly undisputed facts and make judgments accordingly. The initialism MSJ is sometimes used to indicate a motion for summary judgment.

XXN: Cross-Examination

During this formal interrogation, a witness is called by the opponent. Cross-examiners aim to demonstrate that these witnesses are not credible. Attorneys who conduct cross-examinations must ask questions within the scope of the original examination.

WOP or WP: Without Prejudice

When judges dismiss cases without prejudice, they protect the rights of the plaintiff or prosecutor to have the case heard in court at a later time.

CA: Class Action

Under this type of lawsuit, individuals are able to file on behalf of larger groups of claimants who have similar grievances. By combining multiple groups into one streamlined process, this solution can provide strength in numbers.

Codes, Laws, and Organization Abbreviations

UCC: Uniform Commercial Code

The UCC regulates a variety of financial transactions, with the intention of limiting the complications of doing business across state lines. While the UCC is technically not the law on its own, every U.S. state has adopted a significant portion of it. Familiarity with the UCC makes it easier to understand local commercial regulations.

FRCP: Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Governing key procedures in U.S. district courts, the FRCP applies in most civil cases. These rules mandate everything from filing cases to navigating the discovery process and conducting trials.

ABA: American Bar Association

As the preeminent organization representing lawyers, the American Bar Association is largely regarded as the "national representative of the legal profession." By providing professional training resources, ethics codes, and law school accreditation services, the ABA promotes competence among attorneys, along with public respect for the rule of law.

NLG: National Lawyers Guild

Offering an alternative to the ABA, this association aims to promote the rights of women, people with disabilities, people of color, and many other groups that have a disadvantaged status in society. The NLG has a long history of fighting to end discrimination and oppression.

ACLU: American Civil Liberties Union

Focused on defending the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the ACLU was founded over a century ago as a civil liberties advocacy group. The nonprofit organization provides legal assistance for a variety of cases in which civil liberties are thought to be at risk.

LSAC: Law School Admission Council

Responsible for administering the well-known LSAT (Law School Admission Test), LSAC promotes equity and access in legal education. Over 200 law schools in North America and Australia are committed LSAC members.

How Can I Find Out More About a Particular Law Abbreviation or Legal Terminology?

A variety of resources help you conduct in-depth legal research as you master not only the abbreviations highlighted above but also the concepts that accompany them. Don't forget to take advantage of these legal research opportunities:

Legal Dictionaries and Glossaries

Often available in both print and digital formats, the best legal dictionaries are thorough, yet easy to navigate. Favorites among professionals and law school students alike include:

Legal Reference Resources

Dictionaries and glossaries are great when you need basic definitions, but many legal reference resources go to the next level. Top options worth consulting include:

  • American Jurisprudence, 2d
  • Corpus Juris Secundum
  • American Jurisprudence Trials
  • Encyclopedia of Law & Economics

Law Library Reference Resources

From legal almanacs to citation manuals and even traditional encyclopedias, the classic law library provides a wide array of reference resources that appeal to all types of law school students.

Many law libraries include the wide range of dictionaries and encyclopedias listed above, as well as additional resources to help you navigate all these reference publications. Law librarians can assist with locating necessary resources—both print and digital.

Which One Is Better: Online Research or Physical Books in the Law Library?

There's a lot to be gained from both online research and traditional, print-based materials. Online research is certainly convenient, as you can easily access a wealth of high-quality resources from the comfort of your home. When you're on the go or have a lot of commitments to juggle, online research can function as an excellent supplement to other methods. It should not, however, be relied on alone, particularly if pursued without help from a law librarian.

Resource variety and quality are important components of the law library experience, but they're by no means the only benefits that this unique environment provides. Access to experts should not be discounted.

When you conduct legal research online, you're largely on your own. With a law library, however, you're encouraged to ask questions and get high-level insight. This streamlines your process as you seek the perfect resource for the situation at hand.

For More Information

Ready to take the next step towards gaining your J.D., LL.M., or MLS.? You'll master all the essential legal terms and concepts when you enroll at Texas A&M University School of Law. If you'd like to learn more about our law school programs—or to discover how these could set you on the path toward your dream career—contact us today.


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