The law can be confusing, long-winded and written in a way that many can not fully understand. I have provided a glossary of the most common terms you are likely to come across, with simple explanations next to each term, so that the law can be more accessible to a wider audience. I hope you find the glossary useful, but if terms are missing from the list which you would like explaining then please contact me via the email or LinkedIn details provided and I will add them to the list.
Agent – someone who is legally empowered to act on behalf of another. This could be a stockbroker, estate agent or any other person(s) entitled to negotiate and make transactions on behalf of another person.
Agreement – where two or more parties reach an understanding or consensus on a set of facts or actions. For example, when a car dealer and a purchaser reach a consensus on the price, condition and any warranties for the purchase of a vehicle.
Allegation – a claim which is made against at least one person (but sometimes multiple people) which insinuates an unlawful act has been committed. An allegation often is made without evidence.
Appointeeship - if a person is not able to properly look after, or think wisely, for themselves and they are entitled to receive state benefits such as a pension, the Department for Work and Pensions can choose an 'appointee' to receive those benefits on behalf of the ‘incapacitated’ individual.
Alternative dispute resolution – attempting to resolve a dispute without the need to go to court. This could be by utilising arbitration or mediation services, for example.
Alternative business structures (ABS) – a relatively new way to run a firm. These firms are run by a mixture of lawyers and non-lawyers (people who are not entitled to offer legal services).
Ancillary relief - an application for financial support made after presenting a petition for divorce, nullity or judicial separation. The term arises because the financial application is 'ancillary'/necessary to the petition.
Arbitration – a third party who looks at both sides of a dispute and makes an impartial decision. The parties involved may be bound by the decision made, but it does avoid the need to go to court.
Assets – things which usually, but not always, are of some value and are owned by an individual, group or organisation.
Associate – someone who is (normally) employed by a law firm and is a legal professional. They may be in charge of handling your case or may be an assistant to another lawyer, such as a partner.
Asylum – granted by a government when someone has fled their home country for fear of harm, persecution or political retaliation and needs protection.
Assured shorthold tenancy – ordinarily a tenancy which lasts for six months. If your landlord has given valid notice to leave after this period you have no right to stay.
Assured tenancy – gives you far greater rights than a shorthold tenancy at the end of the tenancy period. This type of tenancy is often used by landlords in the public-sector, such as local authorities and housing associations.
Bankrupt – when a person or company is unable to pay the debts they owe to creditors, a court may declare them ‘bankrupt’.
Bar (The) - refers to the collective professional organisation of all Barristers in England and Wales.
Barrister - a lawyer regulated by the Bar Standards Board. They often specialise in a specific area of the law and provide legal opinions, draft pleadings and are specialists at court room representation.
Bar Standards Board (BSB) - the BSB regulates and represents Barristers and Specialed Legal Business Services in England and Wales. Their purpose is to protect the public by ensuring that Barristers meet high standards (via regulation, intervention and providing guidance), and disciplining Barristers when they do not follow the standards and codes of conduct set out by the BSB.
Beneficiary - someone entitled to a benefit, for example from a will or trust.
Bequest - a gift of money or personal property made in someone's will.
Chambers - a collection of independent, self-employed barristers who share employed clerks to administer work, and who share the expense of such clerks, office buildings and brand name.
Chattels – things which belong to someone and can be moved from one place to another (for example, a TV or a Bed would be a chattel but a built-in wardrobe is not as it can not be moved to another property or room without causing significant damage to the room in which it was originally located).
Civil law - the area of law covering disputes between people and organisations as well as rights and duties. It does not cover criminal acts and activity though.
Claimant - a person making a claim.
Client - someone who uses services provided by a lawyer or another legal professional.
Cohabitation contracts – made in advance of a relationship. They lay out what is expected or, and by, both parties during the relationship and in the event of separation or the death of one of the parties. Not all clauses are legally enforceable in a court, but they can be helpful to limit and settle disagreements and provide comfort to the parties involved.
Compensation - redress for loss, injury, or suffering. It can be a monetary or non-monetary award.
Compromise agreements – if you reach an agreement in a workplace dispute without going to a tribunal, this is sometimes recorded as a ‘compromise agreement’. This sets out the terms of the agreement, which can include a contribution towards your legal costs, but means that you forfeit your legal claim against the employer.
Conciliation – where parties in a dispute meet with someone, both one-to-one and as a group, in order to try and settle the dispute without the need for going to court. This is another type of alternative dispute resolution, like using an arbitration service.
Conditional fee agreement (CFA) – usually, if a claim on a CFA is unsuccessful then the solicitor will receive no payment (hence the saying No Win No Fee). However, as it is very risky for a solicitor to take on such a claim, if it is successful then a higher-than-normal fee will become payable to them to reflect this increased risk.
Conditions - requirements, restrictions or permissions in a document
Contract - an agreement signed by two or more parties setting out the terms of an arrangement, for example, between a property developer and an estate agent advertising their new housing estate.
Continuing professional development (CPD) - the training that legal professionals are required to complete every year by the organisation regulating them.
Conveyancing - the processes involved in buying, selling or re-mortgaging a property to transfer its legal title from one person to another.
Costs lawyers - regulated by the Association of Costs Lawyers, they are lawyers who settle the legal costs of court cases.
Counsel - a term used to describe a barrister.
Creditor - a person or organisation to whom money is owed.
Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – an organisation which prosecutes criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.
Crown prosecutor - a lawyer (normally a solicitor or a barrister) working for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Crown courts - Crown courts deal with more serious cases. If you plead not guilty, your case will be heard in front of a judge and jury of 12 people, who will, after hearing and considering all the evidence, decide whether or not you are guilty.
Court of protection – if there is a decision which must be made on a formal basis but the person to whom the decision falls is not mentally capable of making such a decision at that particular time, and they haven’t made a lasting power of attorney, then the Court of Protection can choose to either make the decision themselves on behalf of said person, or can refer it to someone else (known as a ‘deputy’) to make the decision for them.
Culpable – this means a person is guilty of, or at fault with, a particular matter.
Damages - an award, typically but not always monetary, paid to a person, persons or an organisation for loss or injury.
Discrimination - being treated unfairly or differently because of factors (which are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010), such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
Disbursement – fees which must be paid as part of receiving a legal service. For example, fees may have to be paid to a local authority or to a medical specialist in order to get the information you need to strengthen your case or to find out something needed to buy property.
Domicile - the location (country) of a person’s permanent principal home. It could be their country of birth or another country in which they live and intend to stay in.
Estate - a person's money, property, financial securities, interests and obligations. An ‘estate’ is a particularly common term when talking about someone who has passed away.
Evidence – something which is intended to be able to prove or disprove something, ordinarily an allegation.
Executor - someone named in a will who will carry out the directions of the will.
Exempt European lawyer (EEL) - a lawyer described by a European directive.
Fee earners – the people hired by firms to provide legal services (i.e., an associate, partner or ‘Of Counsel’ are all solicitors and, thereby, are fee earners).
Forfeited (to the Crown) - where someone dies intestate (without a will), or their will is invalid, their estate might be passed on (forfeited) to the state (government or country) if relatives cannot be traced.
Fraud - intentional misrepresentation, dishonesty, abuse of a position or concealment of an important fact which the victim relies on to their loss.
Fraudster - someone who commits fraud.
Grants of representation – a generic term for the order issued by a probate court when dealing with a deceased persons’ estate. This includes grants of probate (when there is a will which names an executor) and grants of letters of administration (when there is no will and the person under the rules of intestacy (the relative who has been tracked down after the person passed away) wishes to seek the authority to execute the estate). However, normally people just refer to probate even if there is no will.
Grounds (legal) - the basis or foundation of an action.
Hearing (legal) - a legal proceeding where the facts of a particular issue are presented and considered, and evidence is brought forward, in order to decide what the outcome should be.
Incorporated company - a company which has registered to become ‘limited’. This limited liability is either limited by guarantee (meaning that they don’t invest into the company to begin with but are then liable to pay costs when they arise, which is something normally done by charities, for example), or by shares (meaning that each shareholder invests a set amount into the company in return for limited costs if they should occur).
Indemnity - compensation for - or protection against - loss or damages that might be given by one person to another within a contract or otherwise. For example, law firms have indemnity insurance so that, should they make a mistake which effects a client, they are able to pay compensation to that client without suffering massive financial losses themselves.
Independent person – a third party who is completely unbiased in their decisions as they are free from control, influence or personal interest in a case/dispute.
Inheritance - the part(s) of a person’s estate which is passed on to someone following their death.
In-house lawyer - lawyers who are employed by an organisation to work directly for them. For example, the BBC, Google and Warner Bros. Pictures all have ‘in-house’ legal teams.
Insolvent – if someone’s liabilities (debts) exceed their assets, meaning they are unable to meet their obligations to pay debts when they are due, then they are insolvent. The same can be said for a company.
Instructing - authorising a lawyer to represent you. An instruction describes the type of work that you want them to do.
Integrity - acting with honesty and morality.
Intellectual property (IP) – if you hold the copyright, trademark or patent for something you have invented/created, then you own the intellectual property (IP) for said creation. This could be for musical or artistic creations, technological discoveries or starting up a chain of restaurants, for example.
Interest (legal) - a right, claim or privilege. For example, it is called a ‘conflict of interest’ if a solicitor takes on a case which they know will benefit them financially by winning, but fails to bring this interest to light and to the relevant authorities (their firm and regulatory body).
Interim proceedings - in law, interim proceedings are hearings that take place between the first hearing and the final hearing.
Intervention – this is when a regulator takes over a firm’s finances, cases and other documents in order to protect the public and help guide the firm back to operating properly and safely.
Intestate – someone who dies without a will, or without a will which is valid and legally binding, is said to have died ‘intestate’.
Judge - a judge is a highly qualified legal professional who presides over court proceedings. They hear all the witnesses, assess all of the evidence and the credibility of the arguments put forward by each party, and then issues a ruling (judgment). The ruling takes into the account everything presented to them by the parties, as well as the judges own interpretation of the law and their own personal judgment on the matter.
Jury - a sworn body of people who have been summoned to listen to evidence in a trial in court in order to decide if a person is guilty or not, or whether a claim has been proved or not.
Lasting power of attorney – although enduring power of attorneys made before 1st October 2007 are still valid, lasting power of attorneys are the norm. They are much like an ordinary power of attorney, meaning someone who helps to make decisions with you (or on your behalf) in order to manage your affairs, but are also given the power to do this well after you have become unable to manage your affairs yourself; this is regardless of whether your incapacitation is temporary or permanent, due to illness, disability, an accident or general aging side effects.
Law firm - organisations that employ lawyers to provide legal advice and legal services.
Law Society of England and Wales - the organisation which supports, represents, helps develop and further and promotes solicitors and their interests in England and Wales.
Lawyer - a lawyer is ordinarily a solicitor, advocate or barrister of the UK but can also be a professional whose organisation or activities are regulated by an Establishment Directive, the Bar Standards Board or the Solicitors Regulation Authority. As such, they are granted the right to practice in whichever capacity the relevant regulations allow.
Legal aid - government funding which is available, subject to eligibility checks, to help people cover the costs for legal services. It is also used when someone in arrested in order to support the legal assistance staff at police stations.
Legal disciplinary practice (LDP) - a type of law firm introduced in March 2009 which allows atypical people to become managers of legal services firms. In this context, given that it’s ordinarily only solicitors who can become managers of law firms, an ‘atypical’ person is someone who is still authorised to offer legal services to the public (Barristers and Chartered Legal Executives, for example), or someone who does not practice law or hold a law degree, but still possesses the relevant skills and expertise to manage such a firm.
Legal executive - a lawyer regulated by CILEX (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives).
Legal Ombudsman - an independent body set up to deal with complaints of poor service about lawyers and law firms of England and Wales. A Legal Ombudsman employee will act as an arbitrator to listen to both sides of a dispute and form an opinion or conclusion (which is sometimes legally binding and means no further action can be taken against the lawyer or law firm, depending on whether it goes through to a reconsideration or not) whilst remaining completely impartial.
Legal professional privilege (LPP) - a protection that means information a client shares with his or her lawyer in confidence should never be revealed without the client's consent. LPP only applies between a client and his or her solicitor or barrister. It does not apply to other legal professionals. There are also limits to this privilege, however. For example, if a client waives their right to keeping a document privileged in order to further their case, other documents may lose their right to be kept confidential as a result.
Legal services - services provided to clients, such as legal advice or representation in court.
Liable - when someone is legally responsible for something.
Liability – a word with two meanings depending on the context. It can either refer to something, or someone, which/who makes a situation more difficult, inconvenient or to the disadvantage of another party, or it can mean the placing of guilt and being at fault on someone/an organisation.
Licensed conveyancer - a lawyer who is regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers and specialises in property law.
Limited liability partnership (LLP) - a business partnership in which some or all of the partners have limited liability in terms of their legal and financial obligations.
Litigation - the process of arguing a case before a court.
Litigant - someone involved in a lawsuit.
Litigant in person - someone who represents themselves in court.
Magistrate – a layperson (someone from a non-legal background) volunteer who hears cases and administers the law. A magistrate ordinarily will only be allowed to hear minor cases and preliminary hearings within their community.
Magna Carta – singed by King John in 1215 and being the Latin for ‘Great Charter’, the magna carta was the foundation of civil liberties and human rights as it was the first act to promise and recognise the protection of rights and access to justice.
Mediation – much the same as arbitration but is always ‘without prejudice’, meaning it is not legally binding. It is an alternative way to try and settle a dispute without the need to go to court.
Misconduct – acting improperly, normally in terms of a lawyer breaching a regulation or key principle of the profession.
Money laundering - the act of covering up illegally sourced money.
Multinational - a business that operates in different countries.
Notary - a lawyer (also referred to as a Notary Public) appointed by the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and regulated by the Master of the Faculties. They can offer many of the same conveyancing and probate services as a solicitor, can witness document signings to make them legally valid and can be commissioners for oaths.
Obligation - a requirement to take or refrain from a particular type of action, that may have a legal basis through a contract. It is also a branch of private civil law, which organises, prescribes and regulates the rights and duties between people.
Omission – a failure to take action, refrain from something or include evidence where there was a legal requirement for such to take place.
Ordinary power of attorney – a way through which you can give someone the power to help manage your financial matters for, or with, you when it is difficult for you to. This must be done through a legally valid agreement and must be willingly chosen and assigned by the ‘donor’ (the person who feels they would like or need help). It should be someone the ‘donor’ trusts, such as a relative, friend or legal professional and can be cancelled at any time, should the parties wish to.
Out-of-court settlement - an agreement between the two sides to settle the case privately before the court makes its decision.
Paralegal - someone who supports lawyers in their work. Often paralegals have a law degree but do not have a practicing qualification.
Partner - members of a firm who equally share ownership and liability.
Partnership - two or more people working in business together.
Patent attorney/agent - a lawyer, regulated by the Intellectual Property Regulation Board, who specialises in intellectual property law.
Practising certificate (PC) - a document issued to solicitors by the SRA allowing the solicitor to carry out legal work. Conditions can be imposed on these certificates, especially if the solicitor in question has previous complaints and wrongdoings against them (who have not been barred from practising as a solicitor, as they would never be granted such a certificate). Barristers have their own version of this certificate called the Authorisation to Practice (AtP).
Probate - legal permission provided by a Probate Registry to be able to execute a will and deal with someone’s estate after they have passed away. A Probate Registry is an office where you can be interviewed in order to have this permission granted.
Prima facie – a Latin term used for something which appears to be true on the face of it. For example, prima facie this glossary is really helpful and interesting.
Pro bono – a Latin term for work which is undertaken voluntarily (without payment).
Pursuant – something relating to, or resulting from, something else. For example, the author, pursuant to the feedback, declared their website to be a success. Or, in the case of something relating to something else, this document is pursuant to your case.
Remunerate - to pay or reward someone for something they have done or a service they have provided, such as a company paying an employee.
Revocation – the act of cancelling or taking away something. For example, the revocation of her license was for the safety of the public.
Rights of audience - generally a right of a lawyer to appear and conduct proceedings in court on behalf of their client. Solicitors do not have the same rights of audience as a Barrister, ordinarily, but can be granted higher rights if they undertake the required training.
Roll of solicitors - a list of all admitted solicitors held by the Law Society.
Scam – a scheme which benefits others by cheating people out of their property and money, or causing other damage to them.
Sole practitioner - a lawyer who runs his or her own law firm without other partners, directors or members.
Solicitor - a lawyer who has been admitted as a solicitor by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and whose name appears on the roll of solicitors.
Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) - the SRA regulates and represents solicitors in England and Wales. Their purpose is to protect the public by ensuring that solicitors meet high standards (via regulation, intervention and providing guidance to solicitors), and disciplining solicitors when they do not follow the standards and codes of conduct set out by the SRA.
Striking-off/struck-off – this is when a legal professional is ‘discharged’ from the profession so that they can no longer work within the legal profession. An example is where a solicitor is struck from the roll of solicitors.
Tenancy - a contract between a tenant and their landlord. This contract can be written or verbal. In England and Wales there is no law to say that landlords have to provide a written tenancy agreement, but it is always a good idea to ask for one, even if the landlord is a friend or family member. A tenancy can be for a short period of time (six months would be shorthold tenancy, for example), or it can be for a long period of time (several years). Tenants who were already occupying their property before 15th January 1989 have far greater rights, however, as they are still protected under the Rent Act 1977.
Third party – someone who isn’t one of the parties bringing or defending a claim, lawsuit etc. For example, an arbitrator or a medical specialist would be considered a ‘third party’.
Trademark attorney - a lawyer regulated by the Intellectual Property Regulation Board. They deal with the Intellectual Property (IP) afforded to someone who holds a trademark on something. The term ‘attorney’ is often associated with lawyers in the USA, but can also be used when describing specific types of lawyers in the UK.
Trainee solicitor - a person completing their training requirements, which are set out by the regulatory body, in a law firm before applying to become a solicitor.
Transparent - being open and honest in a way that can be understood by others.
Tribunal – an institution or group of people with the authority to judge on, and determine, cases, claims and disputes.
Unadmitted - an individual who has not yet been admitted to the roll of solicitors.
Unfair dismissal – this is when someone is fired for something which they ought not to have been fired for. For example, it would be classed as unfair dismissal if you were fired for bringing a health and safety issue to the company’s attention, or for getting pregnant. An employee is entitled to make a claim for unfair dismissal once they have been employed for two years, full or part-time, and they are dismissed for certain reasons which are deemed unfair.
Unlawful – something which is illegal or contrary to social convention.
Unjust Enrichment – a concept which explains that when someone is enriched (receives money or property) at the detriment of another, in conditions which are unfair to whomever is at the detriment of the act, the law imposes an obligation on the person who was enriched to take steps to balance the fairness between the parties (subject to certain conditions).
Will – a legal document declaring someone’s wishes regarding the handling and distribution of their estate after they have passed away.