Skip to Main Content

LRAW Research Spring 2025

Legal Dictionaries

Legal Dictionaries

When research involves a legal term, it can be helpful to start with a legal dictionary. 

Black's is a highly trusted legal dictionary available in print and on Westlaw.

Example: The National Park Service claims that the attractive nuisance doctrine cannot apply. . . .


The legal term in our example is "attractive nuisance doctrine." 

The benefits of a legal dictionary include:

  1. a clear, concise definition. This is especially helpful as a starting point when definitions in case law may be unclear or conflicting.
  2. origin of the term. The Black's example below provides the date. The FindLaw example below provides a case citation.
  3. the area of law. Knowing the area of law helps with selecting a relevant treatise or key number to continue the research.
  4. synonyms. If keyword searches do not retrieve enough results, try adding a synonym to the search.
  5. related terms. If keyword searches retrieve too many results, try eliminating results that use related terms.

Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019) [edition and year to use in your citation], attractive-nuisance doctrine ATTRACTIVE-NUISANCE DOCTRINE Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief Preface | Guide | Legal Maxims | Bibliography attractive-nuisance doctrine [term] (1903) [when the term began to be used] Torts. [general area of law--sometimes a term has different meanings, depending on which area of law] The rule that a person who owns property on which there is a dangerous thing or condition that will foreseeably lure children to trespass has a duty to protect those children from the danger [definition] <the attractive-nuisance doctrine imposed a duty on the school to protect the children from the shallow, polluted pond on school property>. [example sentence that uses the term] — Also termed turntable doctrine; torpedo doctrine. [synonyms--try adding these to your keyword searches to get more results if needed] See ALLUREMENT; DANGEROUS INSTRUMENTALITY. [related terms--try looking up these words in Black's to understand subtle differences in related concepts]

Secondary Sources in Westlaw: Black's Law Dictionary

To use Black’s Law Dictionary in Westlaw, start at the homepage, and on the Get Started bar, select Secondary Sources.

GET STARTED: Cases - Statutes - Secondary Sources

From the Secondary Sources page, choose Black’s Law Dictionary under Tools & Resources on the right.

Tools & Resources - Full Secondary Sources Library - Black's Law Dictionary

To search for a multi-word phrase like the attractive nuisance doctrine, enter the words in quotation marks into the Dictionary term search box.

screenshot of "attractive nuisance" in Dictionary term search box

Click the link for attractive-nuisance doctrine.

1. attractive nuisance 2. attractive-nuisance doctrine (choose 2)

Notice the synonyms and related terms at the end. If a keyword search for "attractive nuisance" in case law does not retrieve enough cases, you might try searching for cases that use these terms.

Also termed turntable doctrine, torpedo doctrine. See ALLUREMENT; DANGEROUS INSTRUMENTALITY.

Citing Legal Dictionaries

You may cite to Black's Law Dictionary in your memos and briefs as persuasive authority for the meaning of a legal term. Rule B15.1 of The Bluebook includes an example of how to correctly cite to Black's Law Dictionary.

There are three necessary elements to a Black's Law Dictionary citation:

  1. the italicized legal term or phrase;
  2. the underlined name of the dictionary; and
  3. its edition and date.

For example, you would cite to the definition of the attractive nuisance doctrine as:

Attractive-Nuisance Doctrine, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

Citation Tips:
The edition number should never be in superscript, for example, 11th. The “th” must be in regular Roman typeface, as seen in the above example.  Beware of autocorrect.
The Bluebook does not require page numbers when citing to dictionaries. This allows you to cite the same in print or online.