Legal Dictionaries


When performing legal research you may need to determine whether a term in a contract or legal document has a special meaning -- that is, whether it's a legal term of art. You may also need to verify that a word used in the document, or which you plan to use when drafting or revising a legal document, is the correct choice. So of course, you turn to a legal dictionary for a definition.

Free Online Dictionaries

Some of the most famous legal dictionaries are available only for payment, but here are some online dictionaries that are reasonably complete and reliable:

  • Law.com - Search for the definition of a legal term, or search for definitions that include the term.

  • FindLaw - Search for the definition of a legal term.

Although other dictionaries and glossaries are available online, many are no longer maintained and have become out-of-date, and many others are incomplete.

Black's Law Dictionary

Please be cautious about using any online source that claims to be offering Black's Law Dictionary. The only source for the current version is the publishing house, Thomson Reuters, which sells the dictionary in book form and as an app. Any other source is using a version that has fallen out of copyright, most often the second edition that was published in 1910, more than a century ago. While an antiquated dictionary may still accurately define some legal terms, for others it can be potentially misleading or completely inaccurate.

Glossaries of Legal Terms

Although less complete, glossaries can sometimes be a useful source for researching legal terminology. They can be particularly useful if you can't quite recall the term that you're looking for, as you can browse through a list of terms to try to refresh your memory.

  • Wex - An alphabetical list of important legal terms, edited by volunteer lawyers.

  • Nolo - An alphabetical list of commonly used legal terms.

  • NYCourts.gov - A comparatively short list of legal terms, but focused on those you are most likely to encounter in court proceedings.

Copyright © 2016 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Jun 23, 2016.