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Just for fun: top 10 Latin words for law students

If you’re planning on going to law school, the legal system isn’t the only thing that you will be learning. Law has a language entirely of its own, filled with foreign words that will likely be unfamiliar to you. Many keywords you will hear in law school are derived from Latin. Accordingly, we’ve put together this list of 10 Latin words for law students. Whether you’re new to law school or more experienced, it will be very helpful for you to memorize these words! They appear often in case opinions, briefs, textbooks, etc. and they generally aren’t defined. Learning these 10 Latin words for law students will put you way ahead of the game and save you time.

Top 10 Latin words for law students

Latin words for law students

(For an even larger list of Latin words for law students, check out our post on 30 legal terms to know before law school!)

Top 10 Latin words for law students (in alphabetical order):

Actus reus/mens rea—guilty act/guilty mind

We combined these two terms because they are commonly used in connection with each other. Your Criminal Law class will teach you the basic elements of a crime. Two of these elements are the actus reas (the act) and the mens rea (the mental state).

Bona fide—in good faith

You might see this term in contract law or even in real property or negotiable instruments. It is generally used to refer to a person who is a purchaser or a holder of something. This person came into their ownership with no knowledge of anything improper or of any competing interests.

(Writ of) certiorari—to be more fully informed

While certiorari is the full Latin word, you will commonly see the phrase “writ of certiorari” or even just “cert.”  This term refers to requesting review of a lower court decision by a higher court. You might see the term in the context of the Supreme Court granting a writ of certiorari, meaning that the Court has agreed to hear a case.

De novo—anew

This term is most often seen in the context of appellate review. When a higher court reviews an action of a lower court de novo, it means the court reviews it independently without regard to the lower court’s determinations. The higher court will conduct its own evaluation and issue its own ruling, giving no deference to any lower court conclusions.

Latin words for law students

Ex parte—from (or by, or for) one party

Something being done or occurring ex parte means that it involves only one party. Sometimes a judge will make a legal decision ex parte with only one party being present. Often a party will request something, like a restraining order or hearing, or make a motion just to the judge and another party will not be involved at all.

(Writ of) habeas corpus—produce the body 

This is another term that is most often heard in the context of a writ being granted. A writ of habeas corpus is requested when a person is being detained and you want them brought before a judge to determine the legal basis for holding them prisoner.

In Re—in the matter of

A very simple phrase, “In Re” merely means “concerning” or “regarding.” You might see a case opinion titled “In Re Estate of X,” which just indicates the opinion is concerning the estate of X.

Infra/supra—below/above

You will typically see these terms in legal citations, and using them precisely will be of great benefit to you!  Infra simply means below, while supra means above. Essentially, they just refer to something that occurs or is cited either before or after a point.

Pro se—for himself

This term refers to a party who has decided not to use a lawyer and represent himself.

Quantum meruit—as much as he deserved

Another Contracts term, this often refers to a type of remedy. Perhaps no legally binding contract exists and yet someone still deserves to be compensated for the value of the services they conferred on another. The goal is to make sure a party is compensated for the work they perform in situations where payment would be expected.

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