Legal reasoning has a lot of terms that might sound completely foreign to the layperson. By familiarizing yourself with these terms, you can gain a better understanding if you ever need to go through a legal proceeding. Below are listed a few of the more common terms that attorneys and other legal professionals will utilize when discussing law.
1. Precedent. Precedent is a very important concept. Basically, this means something that came before the current case, but it’s a bit more important than just this. Precedent refers to a pertinent legal decision that has bearing on the present case. For example, if there is a school segregation suit that has come up, the case Brown v. Board of Education might come up as precedent detailing why segregation is not legal. In short, when a judge makes a decision, other judges can use that decision to help them decide their current proceedings. This is why precedent is so important. Decisions don’t just influence the current case, but countless others that might occur in the future.
2. Tort. A tort is a type of case that looks at liability, and is also a lawsuit that looks at civil wrongdoing. For example, when you see those advertisements on television that talk about how you need to call a lawyer if you suffered ill effects from taking a medication, this is a type of tort. The drug manufacturer supposedly committed a civil wrongdoing when they distributed a faulty medication. A tort can occur on an individual basis or on a class action scale.
3. Jurisprudence. Jurisprudence is the application of law to a situation. It is more of a philosophy than anything else. It examines the different types of law and how to apply a correct judgment to a specific situation. There are several types of law, including natural and civil law. When a case is brought to court, when laws are applied to that specific situation, this is jurisprudence in its most utilized form.
4. Brief. A brief is a document that outlines a case and points out the salient facts (more on this later) and how the law should proceed with the current situation. It is not always a short document, as its name might imply. This is where interested parties make their cases and present them to the court. An amici brief is a popularly used type of brief. Amici comes from the Latin word “friend” and is a brief written by a “friend” of the court. This is a third party that has an interest in the case and wants to present a unique or supporting viewpoint for the judge to consider.
5. Salient fact. The salient fact of the case is the main point of contention. This is the fact that is judged by the court. Oftentimes, salient facts are not clear at first glance and can be argued over by opposing parties in the court. It is usually the judge’s decision to figure out which facts are salient and which facts are merely supporting.