Legal Jargon: What Does That Word Mean? (Part 2)

Court dramas are awesome. Not knowing what’s going on isn’t awesome. Here’s the solution…


Here it is! The next installment in our Legal Jargon series! (Hey Michigan, you know you’ve been waiting for it.) Because nothing is more annoying than eating your body weight in popcorn and watching six consecutive episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and having no idea what’s going on! We’ve had to explain many legal terms over the years to clients, friends and even total strangers. So we figured we’d save you the hassle of having to hunt down an attorney, and just make a list for you here.


Missed the first installment? No big deal, you can catch up here. But for those of you all caught up and raring to go (remember ‘mens rea’ and ‘habeas corpus’?)…let’s pick up where we left off last time.


Amicus Curiae:

This rather strange sounding term means “friend of the court,” although in this case, it isn’t the same thing as the Friend of the Court (which is in fact a completely different entity.) In this case, amicus curiae refers to someone who is not a party to the litigation, but who believes that the court’s decision may affect its interest.


In other words, an individual, organization or business that isn’t directly involved in the legal proceeding, but who the court allows to weigh in, about some matter of law that directly affects the case in question. Sometimes appellate courts will allow an organization, person or business to file an ‘amicus brief’ with the court to make their position known to the court.


Completely unrelated to amicus curiae, is the Friend of the Court, which is an entity that works hand-in-hand with the family court. Its job is to investigate disputes and make recommendations to the circuit court concerning issues like child custody and support, parenting time, and medical support. It is also in charge of enforcing family court support/custody/parenting time orders.


De Facto:

You may have actually heard this term used outside the courtroom (or the studio-made-to-look-like-a-courtroom, as it were). Why? Because it isn’t specifically a legal term, although it’s sometimes used in court. De facto is a Latin term that means “in fact” or “actually.” It refers to a rule that people follow, even though it is not an official legal procedure or law.


For example, while Michigan law doesn’t recognize common law marriage, a couple who never married may still consider their thirty-year relationship to be a de facto marriage. In the same way, racial segregation in the 50s and 60s in America was de facto segregation, not segregation enforced by law.


De Jure:

Yup, it’s another Latin term. (For being a dead language, Latin sure does get around, doesn’t it!) And no, it has nothing to do with ‘soup du jour’, which means soup of the day, not legally authorized soup. De jure means “by law” and refers to something that is authorized by law.


A great example of how ‘de jure’ and ‘de facto’ could be used together, would be this one, which was provided by the Washington University School of Law: “I know that, de jure, this is supposed to be a parking lot, but now that the flood has left four feet of water here, it’s a de facto swimming pool.”


En Banc:

Hoping for a break from Latin? Here you go, this one’s French. It means “on the bench” and refers to all the judges of the Appellate Court sitting together to hear a case. This is different from routine dispositions by panels of three judges that normally hear cases in the Michigan Court of Appeals, or another appellate court. When lawyers see an appellate decision en banc, it just means that the entire court decided together on an especially important case.


If you check out the website for the United States Court for the Sixth Circuit (which is the Appeals Court that oversees Michigan cases), you will see the term ‘en banc’ used regularly. For example: “The page limit for a petition for en banc hearing (or panel rehearing) is 15 pages.”

We hope this brief terminology breakdown was informative. So next time you’re draped across the couch, snarfing Doritos and marathoning endless episodes of Ally McBeal (whatever, you know you love that show!), at least you’ll know what’s really going on during those court scenes. You’re welcome.

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