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Legalese, Translated: Law 102

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If you’ve ever read through a contract or examined the fine print of a warranty, you know the letter of the law can be dense and confusing stuff. It becomes even more complicated once you become involved in actual legal proceedings. In light of this, we’ve put together our “Legalese, Translated” blog post series. Each installment will explain a collection of legal terms in plain English, from the mainstream lawyer-speak you might hear on your favorite crime drama to more specialized language reserved for certain types of cases. While any legal document or proceeding should be thoroughly examined, understood, and explained to you by your attorney of choice, we hope this resource gives you some context and clarity both in and out of the courtroom.

This week, we’re following up the first installment of our “Legalese, Translated” series with a new set of slightly more advanced legal terms.

Affidavit: a sworn statement in written form. The signer typically swears an oath to tell the truth under penalty of perjury before a notary public or other public official before committing their signature.

Answer: a written statement filed in response to a lawsuit by the defendant. In the answer, the defendant responds to each allegation individually by denying it, denying it in part, admitting it, or admitting it in part.

Arbitration: a “mini-trial” held in an attempt to resolve a case before it goes to a full scale court trial. Arbitration may be conducted by a retired judge, a panel of respected lawyers, or an organization that provides arbitration services (like the American Arbitration Association).

Attorney-Client Privilege: the legally-mandated confidentiality of communications and conversations between an attorney and their client(s).

Brief: a legal document that lays out the arguments for various motions and petitions a given lawsuit, with the goal of helping convince the court rule in favor of the party that wrote the brief.

Clause: a line, phrase, or section of a written document. You most often hear this term used in regards to contracts.

Contempt: short for “contempt of court,” this term could be used to describe either being rude and/or disrespectful in a courtroom or willfully disobeying an order from the court. In the state of Massachusetts, contemptuous behavior can be punished with a fine or jail time.

Consideration: a fancy way of saying “payment”

Declaration: a written statement made under penalty of perjury. A declaration tends to be less  time-consuming and complex than an affidavit.

Delinquent: may either describe an overdue payment or committment (adjective) or refer to an underage violator of the law (noun)

Discovery: the process of information gathering that occurs before a trial. Each party and their attorneys will obtain all of the depositions, motions, petitions, admissions of fact, and other evidence they can that are relevant to the case.

Disposition: the final ruling of a court in a criminal charge or lawsuit.

Domicile: a person’s principal home that is used to determine court jurisdiction, taxes, and other legal matters. You can have any number of residences, but only one domicile.

Estoppel: a legal principle that prevents someone from contradicting something they previously said, did, or agreed to

Force majeure: an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled (also known as an “act of God”)

Garnishment: the withholding of a certain sum from wages to satisfy a creditor or a legal obligation

Grievance: the reason for a complaint, usually a cause of distress

Guardian: the person or party who is legally responsible for the person or property of another

Indigent: not having enough money to meet court obligations

Infringement: can refer to the improper use of intellectual property or trespassing and/or illegal entering.

Injunction: an order issued by a court ordering someone to do something or prohibiting some act after a court hearing

Jurisprudence: the entire subject of law. The term refers to the study of law and legal matters as a whole.

Lien: an official claim against property or funds for payment of a debt or amount owed for services rendered

Notary public: often called a “notary” for short, a person authorized by the state to administer oaths, take acknowledgements and depositions, and certify legal documents

Summons: a document issued by the court when a lawsuit is filed with instructions on how the defendant should respond to the complaint, usually within a certain time frame.

Tort: any wrongful act that leads to civil legal liability, like an infringement of a right or causing someone loss or other harm.


KJC Law Firm has over 125 years of combined experience litigating major personal injury  cases. We have the resources to investigate your claim, hire the necessary experts, and get you the compensation you deserve. We understand the effects an injury or accident can have on you and your family, and we know the methods the insurance companies will try to use to blame you, even when it isn’t your fault. We’re here to help – schedule a free consultation with our team to start your journey to restitution.

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