Legal Jargon Explained

A Guide To Legal Terminology

ABCDEF – G – HIJ – K – LMNOP – Q – RSTU – V – W – X – Y – Z


Accounts – a record of an organisation’s or individual’s financial situation.

Adjournment – the postponing of a court hearing.

Adjudge/Adjudicate – to give an official judgement on something.

Allegation – a claim or statement that is unproven, but states that something in particular has happened.

Ambiguity – open to more than one interpretation; having more than one meaning.

Appeal – requesting that one court overturns or overrules the decision of a lower court.

Arbitration – the process of settling a dispute outside the courts, by using a referee.

Arraignment – the reading of offences and entering of a plea at the start of a trial.

Articles – refers to clauses in a document.


Bailiff – a court officer who carries out court orders, such as serving documents on people.

Bar – a collective term for barristers; when becoming a barrister, a lawyer is said to be called to the bar.

Barrister – a lawyer who is able to speak in higher courts, which is something a solicitor is not allowed to do.

Bench – a collective term for judges, or magistrates, in a court.

Beneficiary – a person who will benefit from a will or trust.

Bequeath – leaving something to another person in a Will.

Bequest – something that has been given in a Will.

Bill of Costs – an invoice the solicitor sends to a client for disbursements, expenses, and fees.

Breach of Contract – a failure to carry out a duty specified in a contract.

Breach of Duty – a failure to carry out a duty specified by law, or doing something forbidden by law.

Brief – a document a solicitor prepares with instructions for a barrister to specify what they should do in court.

Bylaw – a law at the level of a local authority, which only applies within the jurisdiction of that local authority.


Capacity – a person’s ability to enter into a legal agreement, often in reference to mental capacity or minors.

Careless Driving – driving without due consideration for other drivers/other people using the road.

Case Law – law that is based on and derived from previous court rulings in similar cases.

Circuit – one of the legal regions of England and Wales.

Civil Law – the system of law regarding private relations between members of a community, as opposed to criminal, military law etc.

Claimant – the person who is bringing a claim.

Clause – a particular section of a contract.

Compensation – payment made to make up for damage or loss.

Compensation Order – an order by the court for someone to pay compensation.

Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) – an arrangement to financially protect a claimant in case they lose their case.

Conveyancing – carrying out actions for transferring ownership of a piece of land.

Copyright – a legal right to to intellectual property, preventing other people from copying that property without permission.

Counsel – a barrister who advises on a case.

Counterclaim – making a court claim against someone who has already claimed against you.

County Court – a civil court that deals with cases for its own county.

Court of Appeal – the court to hear appeals against decisions made by other courts.

Court of Protection – the court to manage affairs of people who cannot look after themselves.

Court Proceedings – the legal process leading up to a trial.

Crown Court – a criminal court which also deals with appeals from the Magistrates Courts.


Damages – another term for compensation.

Defamation – slander, libel, or some action that damages the good reputation of someone.

Defence – the legal counter to the prosecutions arguments in a claim.

Defendant – the individual or entity a claim is brought against, or who is accused in court.

Disbursement – fees paid to other organisation as required for legal services, such as cost of requesting information from local authorities.

Disclosure – where each party shares documents they have which are relevant to issues of the case.

Divorce – the legal termination of a marriage.


Estate – a person’s property, entitlements, and obligations.

Executor – an individual who is named in a Will to carry out the directions described in the Will.

Expert Witness – a qualified subject specialist whose expertise allows them to provide expert opinions as testimony.


Family Law – the branch of law dealing with family matters such as divorce and child custody.

Fee Earner – an individual who is carrying out the legal work for, takes instructions from, and charges a client for their fees.

Fraud – wrongful or criminal deception with the intention of personal or financial gain.


Hearing – a proceeding before a court or committee that is usually shorter and less formal than a trial.

Hearsay – evidence presented by a witness about something they do not have direct knowledge of, most commonly being based only on what others have said to them.

High Court – a court with unlimited civil jurisdiction, comprised of the Queen’s Bench, Chancery, and the Family Division.

Housing Disrepair – where certain repairs to a property are neglected, causing damage that needs to be put right.


Inheritance – a part of someone’s estate to be passed to someone else on death.

Instructing / Instruction – authorisation for a lawyer to represent you and act on your behalf.


Judge – someone who presides of court proceedings, hears witnesses and evidence, and issues a ruling, or decision, on the matter at hand.

Judgement – the ruling a Judge or Court has given on a legal matter/proceeding.

Jurisdiction – authority given by law to a Court to try cases in certain areas, whether they be geographic or topical.

Jury – a group of individuals serving to listen to all the facts in a trial and reach a verdict/decision about a case.


Lasting Power of Attorney – a document that appoints someone to help make decisions for another person.

Lawsuit – a claim or dispute brought before a court for adjudication.

Lawyer – someone who practices or studies the law, such as a solicitor or barrister.

Leasehold – temporary rights for possession and use of a property, but not land ownership.

Legal Aid – public funds allowed, in certain cases, to help with payment for legal advice or proceedings.

Letter of Claim – sometimes, called letter of complaint, identifies a problem with a product a service which should be rectified or compensated.

Liability – legal responsibility.

Litigant in Person – an individual or organisation who represents themselves in court proceedings.

Litigation – the process started by action of bringing a lawsuit in court.


Magistrate – a civil officer who works to administer the law, who usually deals with minor matters or preliminary hearings for more serious matters.

Magistrates Court – a court presided over by a magistrate, which has some civil and criminal jurisdiction.

Matter – an issue to be resolved through legal processes, such as a claim or dispute.

Mediation – intervention in a dispute to help in resolving the matter.

Minor – a person under the age of complete legal responsibility.

Misconduct – improper or unacceptable behaviour or actions, most often by a staff member or professional person.

Misfeasance – a sort of transgression, particularly as in wrongfully exercising lawful authority.

Mistrial – a trial that is found to be invalid due to an error in the proceedings.

Mitigation – actions taken to reduce the severity of a ruling, such as reducing a fine.


Negligence – failure to act with expected level of care or professionalism or a certain role.

No Win No Fee – a payment option that may protect claimants from legal costs if their case is lost.

Non-Disclosure Agreement – a contract to confirm that certain information is treated as confidential and/or a trade secret, so is not allowed to be discussed to others without authorisation. 

Nuisance – an act that endangers life, health, property, morals, or comfort of the public.


Order – an official proclamation from a court judge that authorises or enforces the carrying out of certain steps.

Out of Court Settlement – a legal arrangement for compensation to be paid before a claim reaches court/trial or requires the involvement of a judge.


Paralegal – a person trained in some legal matters, but not fully qualified as a lawyer.

Penalty Points – a punishment given by the courts for a driving offence, which my accumulate to 12 or more and result in a driving ban.

Plaintiff – someone who is bringing a case against someone else in a court of law.

Probate – the act of officially proving a will.

Professional Negligence – when a professional fails to meet their responsibilities to a required standard, or when they breach their duty of care.

Prosecution – those who are conducting legal proceedings to bring a claim against someone else.

Prosecutor – an individual who instigates the legal proceedings for prosecution.


Redundancy – no longer being employed due to a lack of work, or that a certain job role is no longer needed.

Remunerate – making payment for work that has been done.

Representation – where lawyers, solicitors, or barristers, represent their clients in court and during legal proceedings.


Solicitor – a person legally qualified in a range of legal matters and who may instruct barristers to represent clients in some courts.

Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales, regulating the professional conduct of those solicitors.

Striking off/Struck off – a case is said to be struck off from court when no judgement can be given, for example when the court is found to have no jurisdiction over that case.


Tenancy – possession or occupancy of a property as a tenant, usually given by a landlord.

Tort – a wrongful act, or infringement of a right.

Trainee Solicitor – a lawyer undergoing training to become a fully-qualified solicitor.

Tribunal – a panel or committee established to judge or settle some disputes.


Unfair Dismissal – when an employment contract is terminated without fair reason.


Will – a legal document setting out how property is to be distributed after death.

Witness – someone who can give evidence in court, or who has sufficient knowledge of something to testify about it.