Lawyers can, and often do, bury you in paper.
- Eek – Here’s a summons!
- Oh – Here’s a contract, a subpoena!
What are all these papers?
Since law is a profession of words, it is vital to understand the type of document with which you are dealing. A document is a paper with legal significance.
- Are you signing away your fortune or proving that you have one? Are you asking the court to move the trial or is the court forcing you to move?
Here are some common and basic types of documents, each with its own purpose, limits, and significance.
Affidavit: A written statement of facts sworn to under oath and signed in front of a person authorized to administer an oath, such as a notary public.
The person writing it is called the affiant. The part signed by the notary is called the jurat, and says something like:
- Sworn before me this______day of _______________20_____at______ .
Bill: This little word has many legal meanings. Among these are:
- It may be a law in draft form; that is, before it is passed by the legislature, while it is debated before enactment (when a bill becomes a law).
- It is the Bill of Rights that sets out many basic rights and freedoms.
- It may be something we all know very well, a statement of money owed. Too often, the mailbox is full of bills!
Certificate: A document stating a fact, qualification, promise, et cetera. For example: A teaching certificate permits a person to teach in the state jurisdiction of the certificate; a marriage certificate states the person is married (in all jurisdictions). Note: In some places these are called “licenses.” See below.
Charter: An act of the legislature that sets up a corporation. Called “certificate of incorporation.” A city charter, which creates a city, is also set up by the legislature. A charter school is set up through the state laws (created by the legislature).
Contract: An agreement between people, corporations, or other entities (not the court, but) which can be enforced by a court. It is usually written, but not always.
Deed: A writing that transfers ownership of land and buildings from one person to another (the grantor to the grantee).
Decree: A judgment of a court. An order. For example: A divorce decree ends a marriage.
Indictment: A written accusation by a grand jury, stating that there is enough evidence against a person to charge him/her with a crime.
Interrogatories: A pretrial discovery tool used in civil cases. It is a set of written questions that one party serves – don’t you love that word! – on the other. The questions are answered under oath.
License: A document giving official permission to do something. For example: A driver’s license permits a person to drive; a license to practice medicine in the jurisdiction covered by the license lets a person be a doctor there. (Note: As with certificates, some licenses are limited to specific jurisdictions.)
Motion: An application to a court for a ruling or an order. For example: A motion to change the trial location is a change of venue motion. A motion to strike asks judge to remove specific testimony from the record.
Order: A command or decision by a judge.
Ordinance: A municipal (city) law.
Record: The history of a court action. All the testimony, documents, and other evidence presented.
Statute: A law passed by state or federal legislatures.
Subpoena: A written order or writ requiring the person to whom it is addressed to appear in court to give testimony (called a subpoena ad testificandum) and/or to bring specific documents or other evidence (called a subpoena duces tecum).
Summons: Written notice to a person or persons or corporation or other entity that there is a lawsuit against him/her/them/it. The document that starts an action when served upon the D.
Testament: Any proof that serves as evidence of something. For example, a last will and testament proves how the decedent (person who died) wanted his property (called “estate”) distributed after his death.
Warrant: A writ or order authorizing an officer to make an arrest, conduct a search of a person or premises or seize property belonging to a D, or perform another task. Examples are bench warrants, search warrants, arrest warrants.
Will: A document that states how a person wants to dispose of (divide, give away) his property (“estate”) after death.
Writ: A formal document ordering an action. Usually, it orders an officer of the state to do something. For example, writ of habeas corpus, writ of certiorari, writ of execution.
Writ of habeas corpus: The Great Writ. An order that a person appear in court to determine if he is held in custody legally.
Writ of certiorari: An order by a higher court to a lower court to get the record of proceedings so that the higher court can review the lower court’s decision for error.
Writ of execution: A court order to enforce a judgment granted to the P by authorizing the sheriff to impose a levy on property, in the court’s jurisdiction, that belongs to the judgment debtor (D).
from: Legal Grind Press first release:
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.