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Overview of the Legal Elements

About the Legal Elements

With legal terminology it�s important to understand both the what and the why.  That is, you need to know both what the term means and why it�s important in the eyes of the law.  Without understanding the why, you can miss the point even with a perfectly good definition in mind.  That�s why Clear-Point Law has created a proprietary system for indexing legal terminology. We call it The Legal Elements.

The legal elements provide non-lawyers with a context for legal terms.  These elements represent the key concepts of legal thinking and provide the answer to the question, why is this important.  It doesn�t matter if the issue is criminality or contracts.

The Element of Policy


Policy refers to the principles, values, and beliefs that form the moral and ethical foundation of a society and its legal system.  Policy includes what a society holds as good, important, valuable and in need of protecting.  Policy also includes what a society holds as immoral and unethical.  It helps to think of policy as a value system that guides legal thinking in philosophical matters.

For example, the concept of damages in law is based on Policy.  Western thinking recognizes the right of individuals to own property.  When one individual�s property is destroyed by another, the injured individual has the right to be compensated.  The actual compensation is determined through the legal process of calculating damages.  What a court holds as being compensable damages as compared to what a court holds as being non-compensable damages reflects the policy of that court system.

The Element of Reason & Logic


Reason and Logic is a classification for terms that describe the thought process.  This class of terms is most often used to describe how one arrives at a conclusion, whether by sound or unsound means.

Take the term, a posteriori.  A Posteriori comes from Latin and literally means "from what comes after."  It describes a logical process that takes a known outcome and then infers the cause.  For example, you see a new car abandoned along the side of a desert highway.  You might infer, a posteriori, that the car ran out of fuel.

Reason-and-Logic terms are central to describing both the process and the quality of legal thinking.

The Element of Law


The Legal Element of Law is used more narrowly within our law dictionary than it may be in general use.  Here, Law refers to the collective body of laws that form the rules of Society.  Within the world of legal terminology, the element of Law underlies many terms describing the processes of legislation, regulation and adjudication.

The Element of Justice


The Legal Element, Justice, comes from the concepts of fairness and impartiality. It�s also important to note that Justice is distinct from Law.  While it is the intent of the legal system to create laws that support the policies of fairness and impartiality, it�s understood that the system of law is imperfect in its attempt to achieve justice.  Therefore we talk about law and justice as separate legal elements.

For instance, let�s look at a common type of contract dispute.  In general, a contract requires a "meeting of the minds" between all parties to form a legally binding agreement.  It occurs sometimes, though, that one party has good reason to believe that an agreement has been reached when in fact there has been no true meeting of the minds.  Now let�s say that one party incurs a significant expense based on the false belief that a contract exists.  Based on the law of contracts she would have no legal basis to recover her damages because no contract exists.

In such a case, the injured party could make an appeal for justice under the legal concept of promissory estoppel.  In this case the court may consider providing remedy for an injury based on justice when the law provides no relief.

The Element of Authority


This element represents a classification of terms that describe some aspect of legal authority as it is exercised within society.  This classification includes the authority of both individuals and institutions.  Terms of authority describe concepts of authority, for example how rights, which convey authority, are granted or revoked.

For instance, the terms federalism and physical duress are both classified under the Legal Element of Authority.  The former describes a system of government where authority is divided between national and regional governments.  The latter describes the use of physical methods to control or influence the actions of another, thereby depriving the oppressed party of their right to exercise their own authority.

The Element of Process


In matters governed by the law, the Legal Element of Process plays an important role. The terms within the Process category describe both events and actions that follow some prescribed procedure. Process terms relate not only to procedures of the court, such as the term jury trial, but also include procedures in everyday life in which the law has some interest or influence. For instance, the term payment describes a legal process where something of value is given to satisfy an obligation.

The Element of Relationship


The Legal Element of Relationship includes legal terms that describe the many types of relationships which are of concern in the law.  The Relationship class includes designations for family relationships (father, mother, child, etc.), contractual relationships (offeror, offeree, etc.), and many others.

The Element of Status


The Legal Element of Status plays a central role in legal thinking and applies to both beings and things.  Accordingly, the language of law is rich with terms that describe the status or state of living beings (both human and non-human) and objects (both real and abstract).  The legal terms minor and divisible contract describe status.  The term minor is used to denote a person who has not yet reached the age of majority.  The term divisible contract denotes a type contract that contains multiple covenants which can be enforced separately.

In the legal system status plays a key role in determining which rules of law apply in a given situation.

The Element of Agreement


Agreement is a common issue in legal analysis, fundamental to understanding human interaction.    As such, legal language is not lacking for terms to describe the many aspects of agreement.    Diverse terms such as acceleration clause and marriage fall under this Legal Element.

The Element of Obligation


Obligation provides a classification for legal terminology that describes some aspect of obligation between people and/or institutions.  The terms co-signer, release and warranty, all denote something about obligation, which in the eyes of the law, imposes a legal duty.

The Element of Ownership


In societies that recognize the rights of ownership, there is language to describe its various legal aspects.  For instance, abandon and shipment contract both relate to ownership: abandon denotes a process by which ownership of property is relinquished; shipment contract denotes at what point ownership of goods is transferred.

The Element of Time


It�s been said that timing is everything � true not only in life but also in law.  The legal system routinely concerns itself with issues of time; therefore, the Legal Element of Time categorizes the legal terminology of time.  Terms as diverse as ab initio (Latin for from the beginning) and mailbox rule (a rule for marking the time of acceptance of a contract) both describe something related to time.

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