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Circuit Riders: Legal Dictionaries

Basic Legal Research Training

Finding Legal Dictionaries Using Subscription Databases

Certain legal dictionaries are available online via subscription to databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. South Carolina colleges and universities and public libraries may provide access to popular legal dictionaries via subscription to academic and public-access versions of Westlaw and LexisNexis under the Secondary Sources or Legal Reference sections of those databases.

Legal Dictionaries

Legal dictionaries define terms that are unique to the practice of law. Legal dictionaries are available in print and online.


Black’s Law Dictionary is the most well-known legal dictionary and is often cited by courts when addressing the meaning of particular legal terms. A legal thesaurus such as Ballentine’s Thesaurus for Legal Research & Writing or Burton’s Legal Thesaurus can help researchers find terms to search print indexes and formulate online keyword searches. In addition, Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations is a great tool for deciphering common legal abbreviations and acronyms used in a variety of legal documents.




Legal dictionaries and glossaries are also available on the Internet. Examples include Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law through FindLaw and Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary. Law school library websites such as SIU School of Law Library’s Glossary of Legal Research Terms assist researchers with legal research terminology.



Employment at will: Black’s Law Dictionary defines “employment at will” as employment undertaken without a contract that may be terminated by the employer or employee without cause.

At-will employment: Nolo’s Plain-English Legal Dictionary defines “at-will employment” as: “An employment arrangement in which the employee may quit at any time, and the employer may fire the employee for any reason that is not illegal.”