Have you ever had conversations with your attorney and not understood most of the things discussed? They speak English, but it still seems like a foreign language. Yes, my friends, lawyers have their own Klingon and it’s called Legalese! Legalese is made up of a whole lot of legal terminologies and academic words related to law. Your attorney is not trying to confuse you or make your life harder, but it is just the language they are used to. But you can always stop your lawyer and ask them to explain more when you don’t understand something. After all, you are paying (a tonne of money sometimes) to get their advice or just listen to them speak and it is their duty to make you understand!
Nevertheless, it is very useful to know some commonly used legal terms which can come in handy when you are talking to your attorney or you can show off your ‘legalese’ knowledge when discussing a popular case or lawsuit reported in the news!
1. Damages – Damages are the losses suffered and that can be recovered in a lawsuit. It is the amount of money awarded to the person who is suing another. It can further be divided into other categories like economic and non-economic damages. They are generally regarded as remedial rather than preventive or intended punishment.
2. Docket – A Docket is the way the court keeps track of a case. It is a written list of judicial proceedings set down for trial in a court. It can be either your particular case or the court’s entire docket of cases. If you hear that your case is “on the docket”, it means that it is scheduled for some type of hearing.
3. Prima facie – A fact presumed to be true unless it is disproved. In legal practice, the term generally is used to describe two things: the presentation of sufficient evidence by a civil claimant to support the legal claim (a prima facie case), or a piece of evidence itself (prima facie evidence).
4. Habeas Corpus – It is a court order that commands a person to be brought before a judge or court, especially for investigation of a restraint of the person’s liberty, so that the court can decide the prisoner’s release. Usually, this is a response to imprisonment by the criminal justice system.
5. Felony – It is a crime sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison, as distinguished from a misdemeanour (a minor wrongdoing) which is only punishable by confinement to county or local jail and/or a fine.
6. Petition – A formal application made to a court in writing that requests action on a certain matter. It can also be an application to a governing body or a public official asking to grant reliefs, favours or privileges.
7. Probation – A sentence whereby a convict is released from confinement but is still under court supervision which is a testing or a trial period. The prison sentence of the convict can be suspended if the convict has consistently demonstrated good behaviour. This trial period must be completed before a person receives greater benefits or freedom.
8. Credibility – Credibility of a witness or a party is based on the fact whether the testimony is worthy of belief, based on competence of the witness and likelihood that it is true. It is the ability of the jury to trust and believe what the party says and relates to the accuracy of its logic, truthfulness, and sincerity.
9. Affidavit – It is a written or printed declaration or statement of facts, made voluntarily and confirmed by the oath (affirmation of the party making it), taken to an officer authorised to administer such oath. These documents are valuable to presenting evidence in court when a witness is unavailable to testify in person.
10. Defamation – It is a statement that injures a third party’s reputation. It can be making false, derogatory statement(s) in private or public about a person’s business practices, character, financial status, morals, or reputation. It encompasses both written and spoken statements.
So now you know that you don’t have to go to a law school to familiarise yourself with legalese. There are some fantastic resource books and on-line dictionaries that define legal terms in everyday English (Legal Dictionary, Black law’s dictionary). If you come across a word that sounds legal but you’re not sure what it means, you can go check it on the internet. But be cautious if it translates into something which can be a big liability, a sensitive issue, a financial matter or something you just cannot comprehend. Consulting an attorney in such situations is always a safe option to consider!
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