Law School Admissions Glossary

When you are in law school, it feels almost like learning a completely different language with all of the law jargon that you have to learn. During the admissions process, you will be learning a few new terms as well. These words may not be as complicated as the ones that you will have to memorize when you are actually taking up law, but they are very important if you want to know what it is exactly you are doing and what it is that you should expect – at least at the very simplest. Here are some of the words that you may encounter when applying for a slot in an American law school. Terms may vary when you go across the pond. Here are the terms that you may want to know before going through the admission process yourself:


ABA – refers to the American Bar Association, which consists of lawyers based in Washington D.C. The ABA sets the standards for both legal education and professional legal practice and provides law school accreditation in the United States.

Accreditation – the validation of a law school or a law degree by an independent organization, usually the national bar association or an equivalent organization that has properly formulated judging standards

Associate – a junior member of a law firm who is often given a fixed salary instead of a compensation based on results of a case won or lost.


Bar Exam – an exam that law school graduates need to pass in order to become licensed lawyers. The examination can be administered by an integrated bar or the highest court of the state.

Barrister – British term for a lawyer who does actual litigation in court, representing a client. This position is achieved after completion of a law degree, a Bar Vocational Course, and a year’s pupillage.

Billable Hours – the hours that a lawyer works for and charges to clients, which may also generally refer to hours in which a lawyer works with some success as opposed to inefficient, non-billable hours.


Casebook – a law school book, which presents documented appellate case decisions on one particular subject, organized according to its development

Case Method – an instruction method in which students read and evaluate court decisions, learning from cases and their court rulings

Clerk – a traditional term for a junior lawyer working for a law firm or for a recent graduate working for a judge temporarily before finding a permanent job

Civil Law – refers to private law, instead of criminal law, and covers the nation’s laws

Clinical Courses – courses that put legal knowledge to practical use

Common Law – rules that are developed by judges based on actual case decisions that they have overseen, and not on legislation or statutes

Concentration/Focus/Major/Specialization – the branch or field of law that a student has chosen to develop more in-depth knowledge

Core Courses – required courses to be completed by all law students regardless of their preferred concentration


Defer – delaying of a decision, usually up to a year, to admit or deny an applicant if the school remains undecided about a particular application

Deposit – non-refundable money paid by a student to reserve his or her position in the law program and to demonstrate his or her degree of interest in pursuing a law degree in a particular school

Distance Learning – a studying method in which the student finishes his or her requirement outside of campus. The student may be required to physically report to the school once a week.


E-learning – a type of education in which the student learns through electronic means, through CD roms, related websites, video conferences, and email correspondence

Elective Courses – subjects chosen by law students to enrich the core subjects they are required to take

ETS (Educational Testing Service) – a US non-profit organization that produces standardized exams that include the TOEFL


Faculty – instructors/professors/lecturers of the program

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) – a form to be filled out and submitted by students who are applying for financial aid from the US federal government

Financial Need – the difference between the total cost of the program and what the applicant can contribute to his or her tuition through his or her own job and through his or her own family’s finances

Full-time program – a full immersion into the program that requires students to give up employment or employment plans


GPA (Grade Point Average) – the average of grades received for a particular program or scholastic level


IELTS (International English Language Testing System) – a measurement of a student’s ability to communicate in the English language through reading, writing, listening, and speaking

Internship – a temporary period of working for a company (in this case, a law firm) as supervised by the school


JD (Juris Doctor) Degree – basic professional law degree that is considered a postgraduate degree, but not an actual doctorate degree

Joint Degree/Dual Degree Program – combination of two programs that can be pursued simultaneously, an example of which is the JD/MBA


Law Review – a legal journal containing articles written by professors and lawyers and edited by law students who may also contribute to the journal

Lecture – a traditional instructional method in which students listen to the professor discuss the subject

Legal Outlines – booklets, summarizing a particular area of law, that are commercially distributed and sold especially to law students

LLB – Bachelor of Laws; term used in most English-speaking countries but not in the United States to refer to a basic professional law degree

LLM – Master of Laws; term used to refer to the postgraduate law degree

LSAC (The Law School Admissions Council) – a US-based, non-profit organization, which administers the LSAT exam and operates the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS)

LSDAS (Law School Data Assembly Service) – collects all application material, such as test scores, recommendation letters, transcripts, personal statements, and the like, from law school applicants. This service sends the compiled report to law schools on behalf of the applicants.

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) – an exam required to evaluate Juris Doctor applicants across the United States and Canada. The LSAT, however, is not required for LLM.


Merit Aid – financial aid provided based on the law school applicant’s evaluated value or merit to the program and not on financial need

Modular Program – a program method in which alternate periods of full time study and full time work are followed to ensure that students maintain their respective jobs even while pursuing a degree


Need-based Aid – financial aid provided to a student who demonstrates financial need, and not given because of value or merit to the program

Non-billable Hours – hours a lawyer devotes to continuing education, or hours that are not counted because of inefficiency


Partner – a law firm member who usually owns a part of the firm and shares in its profits

Part-time Program – a program setup in which students are required to finish fewer subjects per term to allow time for work

Pro Bono/Publico – literally means “for the public good” in Latin and refers to work that lawyers undertake for free or in a subsidized basis for clients who cannot afford the full fee


Semester – one university term usually lasting about four months

SJD – Scientiae Juridicae Doctor ot Doctorate of Philosophy in Law. After obtaining the JD and LLM degrees, this is the highest research law degree you can take

Socratic Method – a method of instruction used in law schools in which the professor bombards students with questions about certain cases as if the students themselves are on trial


TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) – an examination required to be taken by non-native speakers to test their command of the English language in terms of reading, writing, speaking, and listening before being allowed to take a program that requires a particular degree of English fluency

Transcript – a documented record of a student’s academic performance, which includes the course codes and names and their corresponding grades

Tuition – basic fee charged for a program


Waiting List – list of law school applicants whose admission decisions are delayed and may either be denied or accepted based on the number of students left to fill the class

As you will soon discover, law school puts value in preparation, and knowing some law school admission terms and getting through the admissions process smoothly shows good preparation on your part. Learning the meaning of some of the law school admission terms will help you consider all available options and the different requirements and exams expected from you. You will then have a good idea what you need to do as a future law school student. However, learning some of the words in these glossary is just the start, as you will soon have to familiarize yourself with other legal terminologies that will be used in the study and practice of law.