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Basic Legal Research Guide: Dictionaries

This Guide (formerly known as the First Year Legal Research Guide) tracks the Fall Basic Legal Research Course at Loyola University Chicago's School of Law

Accessing Legal Dictionaries

Black's Law Dictionary is the most commonly used law dictionary in the United States. The 11th edition (2019) is available in Westlaw and the newly published 12th edition (2024) is available in print in the Law Library's reference section on the 3rd floor at KF 156 .B53.

Other law dictionaries available in print and electronic format include:

  • Ballentine's Law Dictionary (3rd ed.) is available in Lexis (note - no longer updated).
  • The Wolters Kluwer Bouvier Law Dictionary is available in print in the Law Library's reference section on the 3rd floor at KF 156 .W653 2012.

Some foreign-language and special-topic legal dictionaries are also part of the Law Library's collection. 

Black's Law Dictionary, 12th edition


Legal dictionaries are trustworthy sources used to look up unfamiliar terminology (including Latin words and phrases) that you encounter while conducting legal research or in your law school courses. The most commonly used legal dictionary in the United States is Black's Law Dictionary, but there are a number of other titles available.

Like all dictionaries, legal dictionaries provide brief definitions and pronunciations of words, but legal dictionaries often offer more. Definitions, for example, may be accompanied by citations to relevant primary law sources such as cases, which can jump-start your research in an unfamiliar area of law. Some legal dictionaries contain other useful material. Black's, for example, provides references to the West American Digest System under which case law related to certain defined terms may be found. The print version of Black's also offers some popular "extra" appendices, including a list of legal abbreviations, a reprint of the U.S. Constitution, and a "legal maxims" section that explains the meanings of certain established principles of law as expressed in Latin (e.g., Veritas est justitiae mater).

So, keep a legal dictionary handy as you begin your research. However, remember that legal dictionaries, like all secondary sources, do not contain official, authoritative pronouncements of the law. Rather, they repackage legal information in a way that is easy to understand.

How to Use

Legal dictionaries work like all dictionaries. If you know the correct spelling of the word for which you are seeking a definition, the process is as straightforward as using any dictionary. Never think of a legal dictionary as a final stop in your research. While some, like Black's, are considered very trustworthy, remember that the definitions in a legal dictionary are not official, authoritative statements of the law.

To locate Black's in Westlaw, simply type the title in the main search box on Westlaw and then click on the matching link

Other Sources for Definitions

Subject Guide

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Patricia Scott
Director, Law Library & Clinical Professor of Law

Philip H. Corboy Law Center

25 E. Pearson St.

Chicago, IL 60611

(312) 915-8515

  How to Cite

While you generally will not cite to a legal dictionary, rule B15.1 (Bluepages) of The Bluebook (21st edition) is the relevant rule for non-academic legal documents. The following example is included in this rule (see p. 23):

Good-Faith BargainingBlack's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

The Bluebook notes that the Bluepages retain the tradition of underlining certain text, although italics are considered to be the equivalent (see p. 6). For further guidance on citing to books and other non-periodic material, see rule 15 (Whitepages). When citing dictionaries in an academic work, The Bluebook (Whitepages) provides this example in rule 15.8 (p. 153): 

Good-Faith Bargaining, BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY (9th ed. 2009).