When construing a statute, lawyers and judges often resort to dictionaries to show the “plain meaning” of the text. But with a multitude of dictionaries to choose from, which one should you use? In this article, Kurt X. Metzmeier recommends a scientific approach to that choice:
First, a researcher should consult several of the respected unabridged dictionaries. Second, the dictionary selected should be relatively contemporaneous with the text interpreted. Third, when a term of art for a particular trade, profession or industry is under analysis, an advocate should also consult specialized dictionaries. Finally, when citing a dictionary definition, an attorney must be prepared to defend the chosen source, just as he or she would for any other secondary source.