Step 1: Secondary Sources - Dictionaries, Words and Phrases, Abbreviation Guides

Dictionaries, Words and Phrases, Abbreviation guides

The law has its own specific vocabulary, definitions for which can be located through legal dictionaries. Also, when doing your research, do not take it for granted that common terms and expressions have the same meaning in law as they do in everyday life. Often these words or phrases have been defined or interpreted by judges in the courts. These interpretations can be found in dictionaries of words and phrases.

Legal Dictionaries

Legal dictionaries define common legal words and terms. These are similar to other dictionaries; the entries are alphabetical and they are commonly found in the reference section of a law library. The entries may include references to case law.

  • Dukelow, Daphne A. The Dictionary of Canadian Law. 3rd ed. Scarborough, Ont.: Carswell, 2004.
    KE183 .D83 2004 Bora Laskin Law Reference A.
  • Garner, Bryan A. ed. Black’s Law Dictionary. 8th ed. St. Paul, Minn: Thomson/West Pub Co., 2004.
    Though an American publication, it very frequently used dictionary for legal definitions.
    Print: KF156. B53 2004 Bora Laskin Law Reference B.
    Online: available online at Westlaw Canada (database code: Blacks) Can search full text or restrict to a specific definition.
  • Yogis, John A. Canadian Law Dictionary. 5th ed. Hauppauge, NY: Barrons, 2003.
    KE183 .Y63 2009 Bora Laskin Law Reference B.

Online Legal Dictionaries

One caveat: the quality of online dictionaries can be variable.

Words and Phrases

Words and phrases will assist in locating the meaning of words as defined by the courts and provide references to statutes or cases where words or phrases are defined. These definitions can have legal authority as they have been defined in the courts.

  • Words & phrases: Judicially defined in Canadian courts and tribunals. Scarborough, Ont.: Carswell, 1993-.
    Over 50,000 words and phrases definitions, includes references to cases with quotations from the defining cases.
    Dig Can. A2 A33 Bora Laskin Law Stacks.
    Also available through Westlaw Canada.
  • Canadian Legal Words and Phrases, 2007-.
    Only available fromLexisNexis/Quicklaw.
    Includes definitions of English and French words and phrases used in Canadian courts since 2000 as well as definitions from United Kingdom and Commonwealth cases dating back to the 15th century.
  • Sanagan’s Encyclopedia of Words and Phrases, Legal Maxims, Canada. 5th ed. Toronto: Thomson Carswell, c.2005.
    This loose-leaf encyclopedia includes definitions of legal words or phrases, a summary of usage, including judicial comments and quotations.
    Print: KE183 .E575 Volumes 1–4, Bora Laskin Law Reference B.

Acronyms and Abbreviation Guides

Whilst doing your reseach you will come across many abbreviations and acronyms which you will need to decipher in order to locate the resources you have identified. There are a number of places to look up meanings of standardized legal acronyms and abbreviations.

See also the helpful article: “Reference from Coast to Coast - Filling in those Legal Abbreviations” by Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen (LLRX, May 15, 2002).

Online Resources

  • Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations
    Created by Cardiff University Law Library, this site is a searchable database that contains legal abbreviations from the British Isles, Commonwealth and the United States and is updated twice a year.

Print Resources

  • Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations: Reference Guide for Attorneys, Legal Secretaries, Paralegals and Law Students. 5th ed. Mary Miles Price, ed. Buffalo, N.Y.: Hein, 2001.
    Print: KF246 .B46 2001 Bora Laskin Law Reference A and B.
  • World Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations. Igor Kavass and Mary Price, eds. Buffalo, N.Y.: W. S. Hein, 1991.
    JX68 .W67 1991 Bora Laskin Law Reference B.
  • Raistrick, Donald. Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations. 2nd ed. London: Bowker-Saur, 1993.
    KF245 .R35 1993 Bora Laskin Law Stacks.
  • Tables of Abbreviations are also found in:
    Canadian guide to uniform legal citation. 7th ed. Toronto: Carswell, 2010.
    KE259. C34 2010, Bora Laskin Law Reference A