As found in Barron’s Law Dictionary, Fourth Edition 

ACTION – a judicial proceeding whereby one party prosecutes another for a wrong done, or for protection of a right or prevention of a wrong; at common law, to be distinguished from an action in equity which could not be brought before the law courts but only before a court of equity. 

BRIEF – a written argument concentrating upon legal points and authorities, which is used by the lawyer to convey to the court (trial or appellate) the essential facts of his client’s case, a statement of the questions of law involved, the law that he would have applied, and the application that he desires made of it by the court; it is submitted in connection with an application, motion, trial, or appeal. 

CIVIL – that branch of law that pertains to suits outside of criminal practice, pertaining to the rights and duties of persons in contract, tort, etc.; also refers to civil law as opposed to common law. 

CIVIL ACTION – action maintained to protect a private, civil right, or to compel a civil remedy, as distinguished from a criminal prosecution. 

DEFENDANT – in civil proceedings, the party responding to the complaint; “one who is sued and called upon to make satisfaction for a wrong complained by another, [the plaintiff].” 

DEFENSE – a denial, answer, or plea opposing the truth or validity of the plaintiff’s case. This may be accomplished by cross-examination or by demurrer. It is more often done by introduction of testimony or other evidence designed to refute all or part of the allegations of the plaintiff’s case. 

LITIGANTS – the parties involved in a lawsuit; those involved in litigation; refers to all parties whether plaintiffs or defendants. The term is usually limited to those actively involved in the suit.  

LITIGATION – a controversy in a court, a judicial contest through which legal are sought to be determined and enforced. 

MOTION – an application to the court requesting an order or rule in favor of the applicant. Motions are generally made in reference to a pending action and may be addressed to a matter within the discretion of the judge, or may concern a point of law as in a MOTION TO DISMISS which tests the adequacy of the pleadings. Motions may be made orally, or, more formally, in writing, by a NOTICE OF MOTION. They may be determined without notice to the adverse parties or argued by adverse parties. 

PLAINTIFF – the one who initially brings the suit; “he who, in a personal action, seeks a remedy in a court of justice for an injury to, or withholding of, his rights.” 

PRO SE – Latin: for himself; in one’s own behalf; e.g., one appears “pro se” in a legal action when one represents oneself without the aid of counsel. 

PROSECUTION – the act of pursuing a lawsuit or criminal trial; also, the party initiating a criminal suit, i.e., the state. Where the civil litigant, or the state in a criminal trial, fails to move the case towards final resolution or trial as required by the court schedule, the matter may be dismissed for WANT OF PROSECUTION or for FAILURE TO PROSECUTE.


Dawn Beene, competent manager of the famous Clarkson Law Library Workshop has compiled this list of important legal terms that all Patriot Paralegals should know and understand:

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