Common Legal Words, Terms, Definitions, And Processes

Authored By: Lagniappe Law Lab
Read this in: Spanish / Español


About Common Words, Legal Terms, Definitions and other legal processes

A plain-language guide to understanding commonly used legal words, terms, definitions, and other legal processes. Click on each term to see a summary with expanded information on each term.  

Words that Describe People / Places

Words that Describe People / Places

Click on each term to see a summary with expanded information on each term. 


The plaintiff is the person who first files the lawsuit. The plaintiff's name is the first name in the case caption. In the case caption "John Smith vs. Jane Doe," the plaintiff is John Smith.


The defendant is the person who is named in a lawsuit filed by a plaintiff. In the case caption "John Smith vs. Jane Doe," Jane Doe is the defendant.

The Court 

The judge in any given case is sometimes called "the Court". In lawsuits, judges are not making decisions as individuals. Instead, they are using the law to make decisions. When we say "the Court" makes a ruling, it is the judge who makes the ruling.


Stands for Judicial District Court. These are the state courts of Louisiana that handle state violations. Also see District Court. 

Opposing Party 

The opposing party is the party on the "other" or opposite side in a lawsuit.


The word "parties" is used to describe all of the people involved in a lawsuit. In the case captioned "John Smith vs. Jane Doe," both John Smith and Jane Doe are the parties. "Litigants" is another word for parties in a lawsuit.

Bar Association

An organization of lawyers established to promote professional competence, enforce standards of ethical conduct, and encourage a spirit of public service among members of the legal profession. They can be a resource for accessing legal services.

City Court

A city court is a municipal court of a city. City courts will hear city ordinance violation and sometimes lower level state violations, such as misdemeanors.

District Court

District courts are state courts that handle violations of state laws, such as misdemeanors and felonies. Louisiana has 41 District Courts. All district courts are numbered 1 – 40, except for Orleans Parish, which is called“Orleans Parish District Court.”See also: JDC.

Justice of the Peace

Justice of the Peace is an elected judicial officer of a justice of the peace court. Use this directory to find a justice of the peace court.


A constable is an officer of a justice of the peace court.

Words that Describe Papers / Documents

Words that Describe Papers / Documents

Click on each term to see a summary with expanded information on each term. 



A pleading is the formal legal term for the papers filed with the Court. In Louisiana, there are four kinds of pleadings allowed: petitions, exceptions, written motions, and answers.


A petition is a paper filed with the Court that asserts allegations against another party and request the Court to enter a judgment in favor of the party who filed the petition based on the facts asserted and the law that applies. When a petition starts a lawsuit, it is called an "original petition." Complaint is another word for petition.


An allegation is just a statement of fact that has not yet been proven.


Exceptions are papers filed in response to a petition or motion that raise a defect in the petition or motion.


Motions are any request for the Court to take action by making a ruling, issuing an order, or entering a judgment. A written motion filed with the Court is a pleading, but in certain circumstances, motions can be made orally in Court.


An answer is a paper filed in response to a petition or motion that admits or denies the allegations in the petition or motion. In an answer, a party must admit or deny the statements made by the opposing party in the original petition and state any defenses available to that party. Read more information on what to include in an answer.

Reconventional Demand 

A reconventional demand is a kind of petition filed by a defendant in response to an original petition. A reconventional demand asserts different allegations than the original petition and asks the Court to enter a judgment in favor of the defendant based on the facts asserted in the reconventional demand and the law that applies. Learn more about reconventional demands in divorce cases.


A memorandum is a paper filed with the Court that makes arguments of law based on the facts at issue in the case. When a party files a motion, the Court often requires a memorandum in support of the motion. On the other hand, the opposing party might choose to file a memorandum in opposition to the motion.

Affidavit of Waiver or Acceptance of Service

A sworn statement filed with the Court that sets out the time, place, and manner of service made upon a party to a lawsuit. 


The Court's written decision on the issue in dispute in a case.

Background Check 

A background check will show what your criminal record looks like in a given parish.

Bill of Information

A written statement that accuses a person of a crime that leads to a trial for the commission of the said crime. Also known as a complaint.

Certificate of Compliance

In expungement, a “Certificate of Compliance” is a letter that verifies that your record has been sealed. After your expungement is granted, the clerk will send a copy of the order to the local law enforcement, the local district attorney, the parish sheriff, and the Louisiana State Police. That is how the court directs each agency to seal your record from public view. After the State Police does what the judge has ordered them to do, they will send you this certificate.

Certified Copy

A photocopy of a document, judgment, or record that is signed and attested to as an accurate and a complete reproduction of the original document by a public official in whose custody the original has been placed for safekeeping.

Certified Minutes

Minutes are the written record of an official proceeding, kept by courts and corporations for future reference. Certified minutes are a certified copy of the minutes from your case.


The written record of an official proceeding, kept by courts for future reference.


A written or oral application made to a court or judge directing that some act be done in

favor of the applicant.

Motion for Expungement 

When filing a motion for expungement, you are moving, or requesting that the court expunge your record. This is what happens when you file your expungement forms and other paperwork with the clerk of court. Several agencies have an opportunity to object to your motion. If no agency objects, your expungement may be granted.

Motion to Set Aside Conviction 

When filing a motion to set aside a conviction, you are moving, or requesting that the court overturn or set aside a previous judgment, verdict, or final ruling in a case. This motion must be filed before filing for expungement, if applicable.


Adjusted Gross Income as defined by the Internal Revenue Service. Household income includes (a) all amounts, monetary or not, which: (1) go to, or on behalf of, the family head or spouse or to any other family member; or (2) are anticipated to be received from a source outside the family during the 12-month period. Income includes all household members over 18 years of age.

Words that Describe Processes

Words that Describe Processes

Click on each term to see a summary with expanded information on each term. 


Abandonment describes the status of a case after a certain amount of time if the parties do not take any steps to move the case forward during that time.


Contempt occurs when a person violates or ignores a valid court order. If one party is in contempt of a valid court order, the opposing party can file a motion asking the Court to make a finding of contempt.

Default Judgment 

A default judgment is one entered by the Court when a defendant in the principal or incidental demand fails to answer or file other pleadings within the time allowed by law or by the court.


The process by which a party presents papers to the Clerk of Court to make the papers part of the official court record.


The event that occurs when both parties are present in court to provide evidence and testimony about the case or make legal arguments about the case. The judge presides over all hearings. A trial is a hearing.


Jurisdiction is a court's power to make decisions about the legal interests of people or things. Jurisdiction over the person allows a court to make decisions about that person. Jurisdiction over subject matter refers to the court's authority to make decisions about the type of case at issue.

Long-Arm Service 

Long-arm service is the method of service used when a party to be served does not reside in Louisiana or is not located in Louisiana.

Rule to Show Cause 

A Rule to Show Cause is an order by the court requesting that the parties to a case come to court and explain some aspect of their case. You can file a motion for a Rule to Show cause to ask the court to set a hearing date.


The formal legal term for delivery of papers filed with the Court to the opposing party in a lawsuit. Service means that the proper legal officer gives the opposing party the paperwork that has been filed with the Court by the other side. Read this article on Understanding Service of Process for more information on the methods used for service and how to make service.

Summary Proceedings 

Types of cases that move more quickly, by law, because of the nature of the rights at issue. Family law cases are summary proceedings.


A dismissal terminates the proceedings against the defendant. It occurs after a Bill of Information has been filed. The District Attorney or the Court may dismiss the charges against a defendant.


"Expungement” means removal of a record from public access but does not mean destruction of the record. An expunged record is confidential, but remains available for use by law enforcement agencies, criminal justice agencies, and other state agencies as stated under Louisiana law.

Fee Waiver 

A fee waiver is a form that allows to you to file for expungement without paying filing fees. It must be authorized by the District Attorney. You may qualify for a fee waiver for expungement if the following conditions apply to you:

  •  You have no prior felony convictions anywhere in the country.

  •  You have no pending felonies.

  •  Your case ended in an acquittal, motion to quash, or it was dismissed/refused and the time limit

    for prosecution has expired, and the dismissal was not the result of completion of diversion.


To deposit with the clerk of the court a written complaint or petition, which is the opening step in a lawsuit, motion, etc.


A legal proceeding where an issue of law or fact is tried and evidence is presented to help determine the issue. Hearings resemble trials in that they ordinarily are held publicly and involve opposing parties. They differ from trials in that they feature more relaxed standards of evidence and procedure, and take place in a variety of settings before a broader range of authorities (judges, examiners, and lawmakers).

Pre-Trial Diversion or Diversion 

A system for giving a chance for a defendant to perform community service, make restitution for damage due to the crime, or obtain treatment for alcohol or drug problems and/or counselling. If the defendant cooperates and the diversion results in progress, the charges eventually may be dismissed.

Unemployment Benefits 

Any state or federal benefits received by an eligible individual that has recently been terminated, laid off, or furloughed from their work or primary method of receiving a regular income. 

Last Review and Update: Jun 24, 2022
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