Law School Lingo

It’s been a rough week. My hair is still slightly too short, I developed an allergy to my lash extensions, and my free week of corepower yoga expired…but that isn’t the worst of it. This week, it hit me. Just a third of the way through my first semester, I have gone Full Law Student.

I’m using law school lingo. I’m cracking law school jokes. Complaining about cases and commiserating over cold calls are go-to conversation starters. And RBG’s fish puns in Yates v. United States are SO. DANG. FUNNY. (I’m not kidding – Justice Kagan’s dissent referenced One Fish Two Fish as a clapback. Check it out here:

Unfortunately, the law talk doesn’t stop at the doors of HLS. Law is Who I Am Now, so these obscure terms will continue to be casually thrown around…and I know from experience how confusing that is! So I’m TAKING YOU DOWN WITH ME. Let’s stroll down HLS Lingo Lane, and by the end you’ll be ready to roll into Leg Reg and answer cold calls like you go here.


  • COLD CALL: When the professor calls your name, without warning, to answer a question in class. This was terrifying at first, and now just causes a slight heart murmur.
  • CASE/CASEBOOK: A case is the facts, opinion, and ruling in a court. When we read a case (and we read multiple for each class) we’re reading from a judge’s point of view.
  • OUTLINE: Think an essay outline, but for the entire course. A whole semester in ONE. DOCUMENT. Used to prep for exams.
  • HIGH PASS/PASS/LOW PASS/FAIL: Our grading system. To pass a class, you just need to Not Fail the final!
  • J-TERM: Apparently this exists for some undergrads, but it’s a three-week single course in January, between the fall and spring semesters.


  • PLAINTIFF: The person bringing a suit against someone else (in A v. B, plaintiff is A)
  • DEFENDANT: The person being accused (in A v. B, defendant is B)
  • HOLDING: The outcome of a specific case. The easiest way to define it is “Under this law, with these facts, this result” (thanks google!)
  • AFFIRM: When a higher court agrees with a lower court’s decision.
  • REVERSE: When a higher court disagrees with, and overrules, a lower court’s decision.
  • REMAND: Send it back! When a higher court sends a case back to a lower court, for them to try it again.
  • MAJORITY OPINION: The ultimate decision of a case, which was decided by a majority but is written by a single judge.
  • CONCURRING OPINION: Sometimes a judge will write a separate opinion saying “hey, I agree with the majority opinion on the overall decision, but here’s more to think about”
  • DISSENT: Sometimes, when a judge vehemently disagrees with the majority opinion, they’ll write a dissenting opinion. It doesn’t have any legal weight, but it shows the court’s differing opinions.


  • WCC: Wasserstein Hall, where all 1L classes are held.
  • LEG REG: Legislation & Regulation, an intro class about Congressional/federal law-making and judicial interpretation
  • CIV PRO: Civil Procedure, an intro class about the procedural rules governing civil litigation in fed court
  • LRW: Legal Research & Writing, a mandatory class for ALL first year law students.
  • SCOTUS: Supreme Court of the United States. It’s honestly frightening how long it took me to figure this out.
  • SPO: Student Practice Organization. There are a ton of different SPOs for Harvard Law students to do pro-bono work and experience different areas of law as pseudo-lawyers.
Actually, Blue Book & Blue Moon don’t mix…


  • GUNNER: Law school speak for “try-hard.” Each section has a few!
  • HYPO: A hypothetical scenario. The worst, because you don’t have a judge’s opinion to steal in the fake world of hypos.
  • THE BLUE BOOK: The official US law citation guide. AKA, the Law Bible. Pictured above!
  • LUNCH TALK: Every day from 12 to 1 pm, various speakers conduct open talks in the classrooms. Best part? Lunch is provided.
  • READING GROUP: Somewhat self-explanatory. Each group is voluntary, with one professor and about ten 1Ls, and meet once every two weeks for two hours!
  • TORT: A wrongful act that violates a civil law. Think, the point is not to punish someone, but to provide damages to the person injured. (I don’t take torts til next semester, but I mentioned it last week: CASE IN POINT ABOUT THE LAW SPEAK)


  • BAR REVIEW: An open invite to all 1Ls to meet in a bar every Thursday night.
  • GroupMe: An app for group messaging. Perfect for, say, law school sections of eighty people.
  • SLACK: The newer version of GroupMe. This one uses hashtags to delineate threads of conversation (ex: #civpro, #legreg, #general, #events)
  • HARVARD SQUARE: This is maybe a quarter mile from the law school campus, and where all the food/drink action happens!
  • BEAT BREW HALL: THE HLS bar. Underground, huuuuuge space right in Harvard Square.
  • FELIPE’S TAQUERIA: Just like Beat Brew is THE bar, Felipe’s is THE BAR & TACO PLACE. DIY taco bar and rooftop bar, also in Harvard Square. If you visit, we’ll go to Felipe’s!
  • RED LINE: The metro line that runs to/from Harvard and the surrounding area. My lifeline to Boston!

Some law school lingo is more important than others (read: Bar Review & Gunners >>>>>>>> any legal terms ever) but they’re all part of Who I Am As A Human Being now. Hopefully this clarifies a few things as I ramble about torts and how I totally agree with RBG’s majority opinion…a fish isn’t a tangible object per § 1519 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act .