Dispute logo



Small Claims Court

Legal Terms Dictionary [60+ Most Common Words]

Updated June 22nd 2022

10 min read

A list of common legal jargon that comes up when filing or participating in a lawsuit. These are the 60+ most common legal terms that you have to know in order to navigate the court system.

Legal Terms Dictionary [60+ Most Common Words]

Legal Terms Dictionary [60+ Most Common Words]


Alex M


Dispute is the easiest & most accurate small claims platform with affordable ways to resolve every dispute.

Jargon WordWhat It Means
Affidavit of ServiceA sworn statement that a copy of a legal document has been delivered to another party. Same as a proof of service.
AppealThe process of requesting a higher court to review a decision made by a lower court.
AppearanceThe act of entering a courtroom and participating in the proceedings.
Bad AddressWe tried to serve someone at this address and it doesn't look like they live / work there. (Neighbor doesn't know them, manager doesn't know them, resident doesn't know them, etc)
Binding ArbitrationA way to settle disputes without going to court, by having an arbitrator or panel hear arguments from both sides, make a decision based on the evidence presented and then issue an award. When arbitration is required by law or contract, it cannot be avoided by either party except through appeal.
CaseAn instance when someone files legal action against another person or entity; also used as an adjective to describe the entire set of facts involved in such an action (such as "a case involving wrongful termination").
Cause of ActionThe reason someone is suing. What someone is suing over.
Certified MailA method of sending documents via U.S. Postal Service where receipt is guaranteed if the addressee's signature is obtained upon delivery; often used when sending sensitive materials such as legal documents because it provides proof that they were delivered successfully.
ClaimThe reason someone is suing. What someone is suing over.
Conformed CopyA document that has been approved and filed by the court, and shows some kind of stamp, record, or case number placed there by the court. Usually refers to court filings that have been accepted.
ContinuanceAn order issued by a court to postpone a case to a later date.
CounterclaimA claim filed by a defendant in response to the plaintiff's complaint.
CourtThe organization that has jurisdiction over a civil case, including the authority to hear evidence and render judgment.
Court ClerkAn administrative office employee who is responsible for maintaining court records and facilitating the proceedings of the court. This is the person who will physically accept, file, and record a case in the record. This person cannot give legal advice and is not a judge or party to the court case.
DBA (Doing business As)The legal name of an individual or business entity that uses another name under which it operates or is known. Usually, this is their "store front" name.
Default JudgementA judgment entered against a party who does not respond to a summons or complaint within a certain of amount of time after being served. In some states, a formal response is not required and it is assumed the defendant disputes the claims being made.
DefendantThe person that is being sued by the court of law. The one who receives process from a plaintiff in a lawsuit, requiring them to appear in court and answer allegations made against them by the plaintiff.
Defendant ServiceThe delivery of process from one party (plaintiff) to another party (defendant) in a civil lawsuit or criminal prosecution through an authorized third party or official channel such as law enforcement officials or postal services
Demand LetterFormal letter sent to a person or debtor, informing them of their obligations and indicating that the debt will be collected by legal action if they do not respond to the letter's requests.
DismissalInforming the court that a lawsuit that was filed is no longer being pursued and does not need to be heard. Dismissals are done with prejudice or without prejudice.
Dismissal with prejudiceCase is dismissed without the possibility of refiling the case. This is done to indicate the parties have permanently resolved their dispute, and no further litigation on the matter is possible.
Dismissal without prejudiceCase is dismissed while allowing for future re-opening. This This is done to indicate that the case dismissal may be temporary or that the dispute was resolved for now, but with the possibility that there will be further issues in the future which may result in a lawsuit.
DocketThe court’s calendar. This is the list of lawsuits that have been filed and the times that they will be heard.
Document ReturnProcess for the retrieval of conformed copies, proof of service and uploading it into our server
EvidenceDocuments, objects, or other things that are told to the court to provide objective facts for the argument that a party is making.
Fee WaiverSame as pauper’s waiver. A request to have the court waive the filing fee due to financial hardship.
Filing FeeThe amount of money the court charges to accept a case. This fee is charged to cover the costs of running the court. Can be waived in some cases of financial hardship.
HearingThe actual court trial where a judge will listen to both sides make their case.
JudgmentThe final decision of the court as to the outcome of a lawsuit. Can also refer to the amount of money (or property) the court decides is owed by one party to answer.
JurisdictionThe court that has authority over a case. Jurisdiction usually changes from location to location, and in some cases, based on the type of case being heard.
LawsuitA claim made in court of an injury or wrong done to someone, for which the person who caused that injury has to pay damages, provide something (e.g. stolen property), or stop doing something that is causing the injury.
Litigantsperson(s) involved in a lawsuit
LitigationA lawsuit.
MediationA session where the two sides try to come to an agreement without the official trial happening with the judge. Usually happens pre-trial. Sometimes required by the court to be tried first in order to get a trial date scheduled.
MotionA filing with the court that requests the judge or court to do something.
Notarizea online tool that lets user signs documents with a notary
Notarya publicly commissioned official who serves as an impartial witness to the signing of a legal document
PartiesThe plaintiff and defendants. In other words, the people participating in the lawsuit on either side.
Pauper’s WaiverA request to the court to waive court fees due to financial hardship.
PetitionPaperwork submitted to ask (to petition) the court to schedule a hearing. Often called a Plaintiff’s Claim in some places.
PlaintiffThe person that is filing a claim.
Plaintiff’s ClaimPaperwork submitted to ask (to claim to) the court to schedule a hearing. Often called a Plaintiff’s Petition in some places.
PostponementChanging the trial date (or court date) to happen later in the future.
Pro SeRepresenting yourself in court with the representation of a lawyer.
Process ServerA person who is responsible for serving the court papers on behalf of the plaintiff to the defendant. This person is usually licensed if they are a professional who is paid for their work. Cannot be the plaintiff themself - must be someone who is not party to the case.
Proof of ServiceA document that is prepared and signed by the process server which states how and when a defendant was served in court.
Public Entityorganization or body providing services to the public on behalf of the government
ReliefWhat someone wants the court to provide when they win their case (monetary damages, return of property)
ResponseThe defendant’s answer to a court case filed against him or her. The answer can say they agree with the claim (causing them to immediately lose the case), disagree with the claim (allowing them to get a trial where they can explain their side), or no-response, which will usually cause them to lose their case.
Serve or Service of ProcessTo provide official notice... in a way that satisfies local procedural requirements.
SettlementWhen both parties resolve their case without the court having to make a decision. This can occur before the trial ever happens, or during the trial, or after the trial. Often a settlement will involve a settlement agreement.
Settlement AgreementA contract or agreement between two parties that both agree will resolve the dispute that caused the lawsuit. This usually involves dismissing the lawsuit.
Sole ProprietorshipA business entity that is owned by a single individual
StatuteA law, passed by the city, state, or municipal legislature
Statute of LimitationsThe amount of time an injured party has to file a lawsuit before the case can no longer be heard. This varies from state to state and depends on the type of case (or type of injury) being discussed.
SubpeonaAn order issued by the court to command a witness to appear in court and testify to what happened, or for a party involved in the lawsuit to turn over documents or other items that could be used as evidence in the case.
SubServe or Substitute ServiceTo serve another individual in place of the original defendant ( I.e if you can’t serve the defendant at home, you’d serve a person who resides there)
SummonsCourt order to appear in court. A copy of the summons (and the original claim that led to the summons) must be served to the defendant to initiate the lawsuit. In some courts, summons are issued on a physically separate document than the original complaint, while in other courts, both appear on the same document.
TortA case where a party claims to be injured by the other party. The injury, in a tort case, is one that is a civil injury, not a criminal injury. As a result, the case is between the two parties, without involving the police or government.
TrialThe actual event when two parties show up in court and the judge hears the case.
WitnessSomeone who saw, heard or otherwise directly observed an incident occur, and is called by the court to testify to what they observed.
Get Dispute to file your small claims case online today. Win back the money you deserve.

Related articles

How to Sue Airbnb as a Guest

You have rights as a guest if something goes awry

· 4 min read