11/04/17 Terms of Art

e-legal lesson

Unless the context requires otherwise, use legal terms according to their specialized sense as terms of art.

  1. Terms of artLatin. Some words are terms of art for lawyers – that is, they express specific legal ideas succinctly. Some are Latin terms such as habeas corpus and res ipsa loquitur, both of which have a rich legal history and are not used outside the law.
  2. Terms of artordinary words with special legal senses. Another type of term of art is an everyday word that takes on a new meaning when used in a legal context. Following are some examples that law students must relearn: they mean one thing to most people but often completely different to a lawyer.

Action. Common meaning: movement. In law: a legal proceeding.
Camera. Common meaning: a device for taking photographs. In law: a judge’s chambers, as in the phrase in camera.
Depose. Common meaning: to dethrone a monarch. In law: to take someone’s testimony in a sworn deposition; to testify.

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