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Daniel Oran - Oran's Dictionary of the Law

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278 Law of the land

Law of the land 1. A law or rule that is in force throughout the country or, sometimes, throughout a geographical area. 2. A country’s customs, which gradually become as important legally as written law. 3. The fundamental rights of persons, and the laws that protect those rights, such as due process of law and equal protection of laws.

Law of the road Safety customs, such as “keep to the right,” that have become law.

Law reform Using a case in court to make a basic change in the law, often by bringing a test case.

Law reports Published books in a series that contain the written opinions in cases decided by various courts.

Law review See law journal.

Law week Short for U.S. Law Week. A looseleaf service with “hot off the press” news from the Supreme Court, other courts, and some legislatures.

Lawful Legal; authorized by law; not forbidden by law.

Lawsuit A civil action. A court proceeding to enforce a right between persons (rather than to convict a criminal).

Lawyer A person licensed to practice law. Other words for “lawyer” include: attorney, counsel, solicitor, and barrister.

Lay Nonprofessional. For example, a lawyer would call a nonlawyer a layperson and a doctor would call a nondoctor a layperson. A lay advocate is a nonlawyer (often a paralegal) who specializes in representing persons in administrative hearings. A lay judge is either a nonlawyer who acts as a low-level judge such as a justice of the peace or who acts as an assistant judge to a trial judge. A lay witness is any witness other than an expert witness (see that word).

Layaway Putting down a deposit to hold a purchase for later pickup. (This is not necessarily an “installment sale” involving credit.)

Laying foundation Establishing the preliminary evidence needed to make later, more important evidence relevant and admissible.

Layoff A temporary or indefinite loss of a job due to a reduction in work to be done. The last person “laid off” often gets rehired first due to seniority.

Lead counsel The head of a team of lawyers on one side of a case, especially when the lawyers are from different law firms.

Leading case A case that either established a legal principle or is otherwise very important in an area of law.

Leading object rule The main purpose doctrine.

Legal 279

Leading question A question that shows a witness how to answer it or suggests the preferred answer; for example, “Isn’t it true that you were in Boston all last week?” Leading questions are generally permitted on cross-examination of the other side’s witness in a trial, but not on direct examination of your side’s witness.

Learned intermediary A professional who is given information on a product’s dangers. Giving this information may reduce the manufacturer’s liability to the final user.

Lease 1. A contract for the use of land or buildings, but not for their ownership. The lessor is called the landlord and the lessee is the tenant. 2. A contract for the use of something, but not for its ownership.

3. A long-term loan of something in exchange for money. 4. For special types of leases such as mineral lease, percentage lease, and subletting, see those words. [pronounce: leess]

Leaseback A sale of property with a lease of the same property from the buyer back to the seller. This is often done with land or industrial equipment for tax purposes, is usually long term, and may be called a sale-leaseback.

Leasehold The property rights a tenant has in land or buildings held by lease.

Lease-purchase A rental agreement in which making all the contract payments gives ownership. Also called rent-to-own.

Least and latest rule Pay the least amount of taxes legally possible as late as legally possible.

Least fault divorce (See comparative rectitude rule.)

Leave 1. To give by will. 2. Permission. For example, “leave of court ” is permission from a judge to take an action in a lawsuit that requires permission (to file an amended pleading, for example).

Ledger A business account book, usually recording the day-to-day transactions, and usually showing debits and credits separately.

Legacy 1. A gift of money by will. 2. A gift of personal property (anything but real estate) by will. 3. A gift of anything by will.

Legacy tax A tax on the privilege of inheriting something. This may be an inheritance tax based on the value of the property or it may be a flat fee.

Legal 1. Required or permitted by law. 2. Not forbidden by law. 3. Concerning or about the law. 4. Having to do with a court of law as opposed to a court of equity (see that word). 5. See the list of legal words that follows for various examples and other meanings. (Many words preceded by the word “legal” will be found only under the word itself; for example, legal person or legal separation.)

280 Legal acumen doctrine

Legal acumen doctrine The principle that, if it takes special legal skills to figure out that there may be something wrong with the title to a piece of land, a court may be asked to use its equity power to do what is fair to resolve the property’s ownership.

Legal age The age at which a person becomes old enough to make contracts to which the person can be held. This is eighteen in most states, but it may be lower for specific purposes. The phrase is sometimes used to mean the age at which a person can legally buy alcoholic beverages or legally consent to sexual intercourse.

Legal aid Describes an organization or service that provides free legal help to poor persons.

Legal assistant See paralegal.

Legal cap Long legal stationery with a wide left-hand margin and a narrow right-hand margin.

Legal capital 1. The par or stated value of a company’s stock. 2. The amount of money a company must keep to protect its creditors. 3. Property with enough value to balance a company’s stock liability.

Legal cause See proximate cause.

Legal certainty test 1. The principle that if a plaintiff’s claim is challenged as being less than the court’s jurisdictional amount (see that word), the amount claimed in the complaint will be accepted by the court unless there is a legal certainty that the amount that can be claimed is less. But see no. 2. 2. The opposite principle, use in the removal of a case from state to federal court, that if a claim is challenged as being less than the court’s jurisdictional amount, the challenge will succeed unless there is a legal certainty that the amount that can be claimed is more.

Legal conclusion 1. A statement about legal rights, duties, or results that is not based on specific facts. A conclusory statement. 2. A conclusion about legal rights, duties, or results that is drawn from specific facts, but those facts do not include the facts legally necessary to draw the conclusion. 3. Used loosely to mean a conclusion of law, the opposite of the meanings in no. 1 and no. 2.

Legal cruelty See cruelty.

Legal death See brain death rule, civil death, and death for various uses of the word.

Legal description The identification of a piece of land that is precise enough to locate it without ambiguity and to show any easements or reservations (see reserve). This may be done by government survey, recordation of precise measurements, lot numbers on a recorded plat, or similar formal means.

Legal technician 281

Legal detriment A liability, duty, or change in financial position that results from making a contract or relying on a promise. See promissory estoppel.

Legal entity A living person, a corporation, or any organization that can sue and be sued or otherwise function legally.

Legal ethics 1. The moral and professional duties owed by lawyers to their clients, to other lawyers, to the courts, and to the public. 2. The study of legal ethics. 3. The written rules of ethics such as the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Legal executive In England, a highly trained paralegal.

Legal fiction See fiction.

Legal heirs 1. Persons who will inherit if a person dies without a will.

2. Any heirs.

Legal holiday A day on which normal legal business may not be transacted. This varies widely from state to state, but the work prohibited on that day may include service of process, court proceedings, banking, etc.

Legal investments (or legal list) See prudent person rule.

Legal necessity (for mistrial) The inability of a jury to agree on a verdict, or a physical cause of a mistrial such as the death of the judge. Legal necessity permits a retrial without violating a criminal defendant’s right to avoid double jeopardy.

Legal positivism The view that positive law (law enacted by legislatures) is the only valid law, so natural law (rules of conduct that are basic to human behavior or morality) is not.

Legal proceedings Any actions taken in court or formally connected with a lawsuit.

Legal realism A philosophy of law that takes psychology, sociology, economics, politics, etc., into account in order to explain how legal decisions are made (and should be made).

Legal representative 1. A person, such as an executor or administrator of wills, who takes care of another person’s business involving courts. 2. A family member entitled to bring a wrongful death action.

Legal reserve The percentage of total funds that an insurance company or a bank must set aside to meet possible claims.

Legal residence See domicile.

Legal Services Corporation An organization that runs a federally funded program of legal aid.

Legal technician A paralegal, often self-employed.

282 Legal tender

Legal tender Official money (dollar bills, coins, etc.).

Legal value See par value, book value, and face value.

Legal worker See paralegal.

Legalese Legal jargon or overly complicated language in laws, regulations, contracts, etc.

Legalism 1. A judge’s adherence to the exact wording or narrowest interpretation of a law, rather than basing a decision on what would be fair or on what was probably intended by the law’s passage.

2. Legalese.

Legalized nuisance A nuisance that may not be objected to as a nuisance because it exists due to specific laws. For example, a hospital might be permitted by law to cause neighborhood problems (such as traffic noise and congestion) that a factory would not be permitted to cause.

Legatee A person who inherits something by will.

Legation All the persons making up one country’s embassy in another country.

Leges (or legis or legem) (Latin) Laws; plurals of lex.

Legislate To enact or pass laws. A legislator (person who makes laws) works in the legislature (lawmaking branch of government) on legislation (laws, statutes, ordinances, etc.). This work of legislation (passing laws) is a legislative function (lawmaking, as opposed to “executive,” which is carrying out laws, or “judicial,” which is interpreting laws). [pronounce: ledge-eh-slate]

Legislation 1. The process of thinking about and passing or refusing to pass bills into law (statutes, ordinances, etc.). 2. Statutes, ordinances, etc.

Legislative Lawmaking, as opposed to “executive” (carrying out or enforcing laws), or “judicial” (interpreting or applying laws). Concerning a legislature.

Legislative council A group of officials that studies state laws, legislative problems, etc. Not legislative counsel.

Legislative counsel A person or office that helps legislators and legislative committees research and write bills, as well as help with other technical aspects of lawmaking. Not legislative council.

Legislative courts Courts that have been set up by legislatures (Congress, state legislatures, etc.), rather than those set up originally by the U.S. Constitution or by state constitutions.

Lesser included offense 283

Legislative facts General facts that help an administrative agency to decide general questions of law and policy and to make rules. They are different from adjudicative facts (see that word).

Legislative history The background documents and records of hearings related to the enactment of a bill. These documents may be used to decide the meaning of the law after it has been enacted. See legislative intent rule.

Legislative immunity The constitutional right of a member of Congress to say almost anything for almost any reason while performing an official function (speeches, debates, newsletters, etc.), and to be free from most lawsuits based on what was said.

Legislative intent rule The principle that when a statute is ambiguous, a court should interpret the statute by looking at its legislative history to see what the lawmakers meant or wanted when they passed the statute. This is one of several possible ways of interpreting statutes. Compare with legislative purpose rule.

Legislative purpose rule The principle that when a statute is ambiguous, a court should interpret the statute by looking at what the law was before the statute was passed and then deciding what the statute means by looking at both the statute itself and at what the statute was trying to change. This is one of several possible ways of interpreting statutes. Compare with legislative intent rule.

Legislator A lawmaker, such as a U.S. Senator, a member of a city council, etc.

Legislature A lawmaking body such as the U.S. Congress, a city council, etc.

Legitimate 1. Lawful or legal (also, a child born to a married couple is sometimes described as legitimate). 2. To make lawful.

Legitime An inheritance that must go to a forced heir (see that word). Lemon law A state law permitting the return of a defective product, usually a car, within a limited time period if there are substantial defects

that cannot be fixed.

Lese majesty (French) Treason or rebellion.

Lesion corporelle (French) Bodily injury.

Lessee A person who leases or rents something from someone. A lessee of land is also called a tenant.

Lesser included offense A crime with a legal definition that is a part (but not all) of the legal definition a more serious crime. For example, manslaughter is a lesser crime included in murder.

284 Lessor

Lessor A person who leases or rents something to someone. A lessor of land is also called a landlord.

Let 1. Award a contract (such as for construction work) to one of several bidders. 2. Lease.

Letter 1. The strict, precise, literal meaning of a document. The exact language (of a law, for example) rather than the spirit or broad purpose. 2. A formal document. For example, a “letter of attorney” is a document giving a person power of attorney (see that word).

Letter of advice A drawer’s (for example, a person who makes out a check) notice to a drawee (for example, a bank) that a draft (a check for a certain amount to a certain person) has been drawn (made out).

Letter of attornment A letter from a landlord to a tenant saying that the property has been sold and telling the tenant to send the rent payments to the buyer.

Letter of comment A letter from the S.E.C. to persons registering a proposed sale of securities (stocks, etc.) that the registration statement does not comply with law and must be changed.

Letter of credence The document that accredits a new ambassador or other foreign minister (recommends and certifies him or her to another country).

Letter of credit A written statement by a bank or other financier that it will back up or pay the financial obligations of a merchant involved in a particular sale. It may be a negotiable instrument to pay a certain sum, a letter that the person’s credit is good to a certain amount, or something in between. Import, export, and travelers’ letters authorize a foreign bank to cash checks or make other payments in local currency to be reimbursed by the bank that writes the letter.

Letter of intent 1. A preliminary written understanding that is meant to be the basis for a contract. 2. A letter (often from a government agency) to a contractor stating that a contract award will be made. This gives the contractor some, but not all, the rights of a signed contract.

Letter of request Letters rogatory.

Letter ruling A written answer by the I.R.S. to a taxpayer about how the tax laws apply to a specific set of facts (often a proposed transaction). Sometimes this is called a “private letter ruling” because it is advice for one specific situation and one specific person only.

Letter stock Stock that does not need to be registered with the S.E.C. because buyers give the seller a letter saying that the stock will be held for investment and not resold for a long time.

Levy 285

Letters Formal, written permission to do something. See the following words for examples.

Letters of administration (or letters testamentary) Court papers appointing a person to take charge of the property of a dead person in order to distribute it. Generally, letters of administration appoint an administrator (someone not chosen as executor in the person’s will) and letters testamentary appoint an executor (someone chosen in the will).

Letters of marque and reprisal See marque and reprisal.

Letters patent A government document giving a person exclusive rights to a piece of land or granting a new patent.

Letters rogatory A request made by one court to another in a different jurisdiction that a witness answer the interrogatories sent with the letter.

Lettres de cachet (French) Documents signed by the king that allowed persons to be imprisoned or excused persons from crimes for no reason at all. These were abolished during the Revolution of 1789. [pronounce: let-re de ca-shay]

Leverage 1. The power of a small amount of money to buy things of far greater value through borrowing. This power is often expressed as the ratio of total purchase price to actual money used to buy property. 2. Putting down a small investment (usually as a down payment) to control a large amount of stock (and usually borrowing the rest). This makes the eventual profit or loss quite large when compared to the money actually put up if the price of the stock changes. 3. Any borrowing to buy an asset, especially as an investment. 4. The proportion of a company’s bonds and preferred stock compared to its common stock. The common stock is called “highly leveraged” if there is proportionately little of it, because small changes in the company’s income can result in big changes in the stock’s value, since payments that must be made on bonds and preferred stock are large, but unchanging. 5. A “leveraged lease” is a deal in which leased items are financed by a third person. This is often done to shift tax benefits from the persons who lease and actually use the property to the owners who gain more. See equity investor. 6. A leveraged buyout is using borrowed money to buy a controlling interest in a company.

Levy 1. To assess, raise, or collect. For example, to levy a tax is to either pass one in a legislature or to collect one. 2. To seize or collect. For example, to levy on a debtor’s property is to put it aside by court order in order to pay creditors. 3. The assessment or seizure itself in no. 1 and no. 2. 4. To levy war is to start a rebellion against the government. It is an act of treason under the U.S. Constitution.

286 Lewd

Lewd Morally impure in a sexual sense; lascivious.

Lex (Latin) 1. Law (or a collection or body of laws). For example: lex mercatoria (law merchant); lex naturale (natural law); lex ordinandi

(procedural law, as opposed to substantive law); lex scripta (written law; statutes); lex talionis (law of retaliation; “eye for an eye”); and lex terrae (law of the land; due process of law). 2. Lex loci is the “law of the place.” For example, lex loci actus (law of the place where the act was done); lex loci contractus (law of the place where the contract was made or the place with the most important legal connections to the contract); lex loci criminis or delictus (law of the place where the crime was committed); lex loci domicilii (law of the domicile or permanent home of the person involved); lex loci rei sitae or situs (law of the place where the thing, usually land, is); etc. Many of these are abbreviated without the “loci,” but that changes the Latin ending of the words. See no. 3 for contrast. 3. Lex fori is the “law of the forum” or court, the law of the state or country where the case is decided. Judges must often choose whether lex fori or lex loci (see no. 2) is the law that decides a case. See also conflict of laws.

LEXIS A computerized legal research source.

Leze majesty (French) Treason or rebellion.

Liability A broad word for legal obligation, responsibility, or debt. Liability insurance is insurance against claims based on others’ bodily injury, against claims based on others’ property damage, or against specified claims involving any type of liability.

Liable Responsible for something (such as harm done to another person); bound by law; having a duty or obligation enforceable in court against you by another person. Not libel.

Libel 1. Written defamation. Publicly communicated, false written statements that injure a person’s reputation, business, or property rights. To libel certain public figures, the written statement must also be made with at least a “reckless disregard” for whether the statement is true or false. 2. Formerly the first pleading in an admiralty (maritime or ocean-ship) court, corresponding to the complaint of an ordinary civil lawsuit. Also, the name for some specialized complaints in some places, such as a “divorce libel.Not liable.

Libelant Plaintiff.

Libelous Defamatory; tending to injure a reputation.

Liberal construction Interpretation of the meaning of a statute that permits the statute to apply to situations within its general scope, but not explicitly covered. See equity of a statute for more detail and compare with strict construction.

Lien 287

Liberty 1. Freedom from illegal personal restraint. 2. Personal rights under law. 3. A liberty interest is a right protected by due process of law (see that word). 4. For liberty of contract, speech, the press, etc., see freedom of that word.

Library of Congress system A method of finding books, first by subject area (law is “K”) and then by a number assigned in time order by the Library of Congress. Compare with the Dewey decimal system.

License 1. Formal permission to do something specific; for example, a state driver’s license or the license given by one company to another to manufacture a patented product. But see no. 3. 2. The document that gives the formal permission. 3. Acting without any legal restraint; disregarding the law entirely.

Licensee 1. A person who holds a license. 2. A person who is on property with permission, but without any enticement by the owner and with no financial advantage to the owner; often called a “mere,” “bare,” or “naked licensee as opposed to an “invitee” in negligence law. In some situations, an invited personal guest is a licensee, not an invitee.

Licentiousness 1. Doing what you want with total disregard for ethics, law, or others’ rights. 2. Lewdness or lasciviousness; moral impurity in a sexual context.

Licit Permitted by, authorized by, or not forbidden by law.

Lie Exist; be supported by. For example, the phrase “the action lies in tort” means that the right way to bring a lawsuit based on a particular subject is as a tort case.

Lie detector A machine that reads blood pressure, heart rate, and other body signs (such as the skin’s electrical resistance) and gives a rough indication of whether or not a person is telling the truth while questions are asked. Lie detector (also called polygraph) tests are not admitted as evidence, except in some states that allow them when both sides of a case agree to use the results. (Other machines, such as “voice stress analyzers,” have also been used as lie detectors.)

Lien A claim against specific property that can be enforced in court to secure payment of a judgment, duty, or debt. Sometimes lien is defined to exclude claims due to contracts or mortgages. A lienee is an owner of property with a lien against it and a lienor (or lienholder) is a person who owns a lien against property. A mechanic’s lien is the right of a worker to hold property worked on until paid for the services. A tax lien is the government’s placing on a piece of property a financial obligation that must be paid because taxes have not been paid. Other types of liens include landlord’s, maritime, etc. [pronounce: leen]

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