Learning Lawyers' Legal Language
Authored by LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor, , Attorney at Law

Learning Lawyers' Legal Language

The Latin language is used in legal lingo, which can be quite confusing to people who are not lawyers since they are not familiar with the precise terminology. Latin is used because law schools oftentimes teach Classical Latin along with a combination of the Greek language. Another reason that the Latin language is used in legal lingo is because the legal system of Ancient Rome has had an enormous impact on the legal systems of many Western countries, including the U.S. Furthermore, the U.S. employs a variation of the ancient Roman law that is referred to as "Common Law." All of this antediluvian tradition has carried over into the modern practice of law today.

A priori
A term used to differentiate two kinds of knowledge, arguments or justifications. This kind of knowledge is received independent of any experience.
Ad hoc
This term means for a particular situation, case or purpose. This term generally refers to something or someone appointed or introduced for a specific purpose and that purpose only.
Circa
This term literally means "approximately," and its common law usage is to usually refer to a certain date.
Corpus iuris
This term relates to the body of civil laws.
Corpus
This term can mean "body," as much as it can mean the principal (such as money) of either an estate or a trust as separate from profits or interests.
Crimen
This term simply means either a crime or an accusation, or even a cause for a crime.
Culpa in contrahendo
This term translates to "fault in conclusion of a contract." It is a significant principle in contract law.
Culpa
This term is the Latin word for either fault or guilt.
De facto
This term translates to "in fact." It is commonly put in place of the word "actual" to demonstrate that a court will regard as a fact any authority that is being exercised, even if all the legal obligations may not have been satisfied.
De lege ferenda
This term refers to "future law" in the sense of what any particular law ought to be instead of what it currently is.
Expressis verbis
This term translates to "in express terms."
Factum
This term means a statement of fact that is brought before a court. It can also be interpreted as a brief.
Forum
This term indicates a particular court that has jurisdiction to hold a trial relating to a specific petition or suit.
Ibidem
This term literally translates to "the same place," and it is employed to offer either a footnote or an endnote for a cited source in a prior footnote or endnote.
In dubio pro reo
This term translates to "when in doubt, for the accused." This indicates that a defendant may not get convicted by a court if there are any doubts his or her culpability that remain.
Ius
This term literally translates to "right," "justice" or "law." It can mean "law" in an abstract sense, or it can mean a privilege or a power.
Le lege lata
This term means, in a literal sense, "the law as it exists."
Lex fori
This term translates to the "laws of the forum." It is utilized in the conflict of laws regarding the specific laws in any given jurisdiction where a legal suit is brought.
Lex mercatoria
This term literally translates to "merchant law."
Lex specialis derogat generali
This term relates to the conception of laws. This term has application in both international and domestic law.
Lex
This term refers to the law in an English sense.
Ne bis in idem
This term translates to "not twice for the same." It asserts that no one legal action may be initiated two times for the same cause of action.
Nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege
This term is a fundamental maxim in the legal thinking of continental Europe. It basically means that no crime was committed, nor can, therefore, any punishment be dealt, if there was no contravention of any law as it existed at that moment in time.
Opus citatum/opere citato
This term refers to its use as part of a footnote or an endnote to tell a reader about the name of the work.
Pacta sunt servanda
This term applies to a fundamental principle of both international as well as civil law. It applies mainly to private contracts.
Pactum
This term refers to agreements that failed to have the benefit of a legal action made available by way of ius civile.
Poena
This term is literally translated to "penalty," "punishment" or "pain."
Prima facie
This term is translated to "on its first appearance" or even "at first sight." This means that an issue appears obvious upon examination and based on the facts.
Ratio
This term translates to "the reason." It can be thought of as the point in any case upon which the ultimate judgment depends.
Res
This term, simply put, means "thing" in Latin. In legal terminology, it is frequently mixed with other Latin phrases.
Sui generis
This term can be translated to meaning "of its own kind." It is used as a term of art for the purpose of citing a legal classification that exists independent of other classifications.
Supra
This term means "above" in Latin. It indicates citations of any given court decision that has been mentioned in the past.
Vis
This term is employed to cite things that are in a direct relationship with one another.