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Legal Grind® presents

The Little Law Book

by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, J.D
Illustrations by Daphne San Jose



∆ Defendant
Π Plaintiff
Κ Contract
Ste. Statute (law)
Reg. Regulation

The Basics

Key Concepts in Civil and Criminal Law

Legal Procedures and Courts

The Little Law Book is an adaptation of LEGALESE by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman (Dell 1990). The book is written for legal description and thus should not be relied upon in the execution of legal decisions. Since laws vary from State to State, we urge you to contact a legal professional in your own State.

To Dan, Julie, and Paul


At first it was but an idea. Now it's a book! Along the way I had wonderful help and support. I wish to thank the follow- ing people for generously sharing their expertise and time in critiquing the various sections of the book: Harold Brown, Paul Cirel, Alan Cohen, Harold Just, Patricia Nelson, Barbara Resneck, Lindsay Robertson, Robert Tuchman, Nikki Zapol, and Anna Zytkov; Susan Guth for research; Audrey Cayne for artwork in those early days; and all those family mem- bers and friends who tracked the progress of this book. Some- times just to ask, ìHowís your book doing?î was enough! Thanks also to my colleagues at Stoneman, Chandler & Miller, and particularly Robert Fraser, for his invaluable upbeat sup- port; my agent, Gail Ross, for her belief in the project all the way; and finally, my husband and children, to whom this book is dedicated with love.


I came to the US in 1950 when I was almost ten years old. On a big ocean liner, right to Hoboken, New Jersey. And immediately, I had to start to learn English.

“Ice cream,” “my favorite aunt,” “chewing gum.” Good stuff. And, “new home.” “Friends.” “Change.” “Confusion.” Hard stuff, too.

Thirty years later, after teaching school for many years, I graduated from New York University Law School. And all the way through, I knew: Words are power. Confusing and hard--I had to learn those law words and make them mine.

If I knew the words--and could use them, I’d get along. I’d be in the game. Otherwise, I wouldn’t.

As a lawyer, I’ve worked hard to help my clients understand the words we lawyers use. That’s what this book does. It’s a gift to you.

Whether you are a law student, a person who needs legal services, or you simply want to understand how it all works, you need to know these words.

With LAW WORDS comes understanding of the law. And with that, comes comfort and power. Enjoy Law Words. Make them yours.


One of the things that makes the law so mystifying is its language. What is meant by terms like “estoppel,” “testator,” “administratrix de bonis non” and “res ipsa loquitur”?

For first year law students, going to law school is in some ways like going to a new country and learning a new language. I know this was true for me, and I found an earlier edition of this book to be like a Berlitz course to learn the language of the law.

Since the language is difficult for law students, one can see why it makes access to the legal system extremely difficult for non-lawyers. One could take the cynical view that lawyers have developed “legalese” to justify their high fees in “translating” the law to their clients! Legalese often disguises what are really simple concepts. For example, a “testator” is just someone who has written a will. “Estoppel” just means a “bar;” someone is barred from doing something they otherwise could do.

During my time in law school, I decided that I would devote my career as a lawyer to make access to the legal system easier for regular folks. I developed The Legal Grind – Coffee and Counsel, where people could come in off the streets to discuss their legal problems with a lawyer over a cup of coffee rather than over a retainer agreement. I am proud that The Legal Grind was honored by the American Bar Association in 2001 with the Lewis M. Brown Award for Legal Access, which is given to enterprises that demonstrate an innovative approach to providing legal services to the people.

This book is consistent with the mission of The Legal Grind to improve access to the legal system to all people. In cutting through the mysticism of legalese, this book helps ordinary folks better understand their legal rights. This book should be useful to everyone, including first year law students, who are trying to better understand “the language of the law.”

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