legal-english-vocabulary

The Legal Professional’s Guide to English Vocabulary for Contracts, Court, Property and More

Are you a lawyer, prosecutor or judge?

Do you work with a lot of contracts at your office?

Maybe you’re planning to purchase or rent property abroad?

It’s hard to escape legalese (legal language) in business and in life.

Learning legal English vocabulary can make your work much easier, take the stress out of important documents and even expand your career options internationally.

In this article, you’ll learn more than 60 of the most important legal English vocabulary words for courts and crimes, property law and contracts.
 


 
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Who Needs Legal English Vocabulary?

Of course, if you’re planning to study or work in law abroad, or intend to practice international law, knowing legal English will be very important. You’ll need it in meetings, negotiations and in the courtroom.

Additionally, people who conduct business with English-speaking companies around the world and even in their own country should be familiar with the legal English for contracts.

Legal English can also be useful simply for living or working abroad. Navigating life in an English-speaking country can be challenging. By learning some legal language you’ll be much better equipped to handle contracts, immigration paperwork, buying or renting property and more.

With hope, you won’t find yourself on the wrong side of the law in an English-speaking country, but if you do, it would also be useful to know some legal English vocabulary. Even for something as simple as a speeding ticket, legal English can be crucial to understanding your responsibilities and consequences.

Where to Practice Legal English Vocabulary

Once you have a general understanding of some of the most common and useful legal English words and phrases, use these resources to practice your knowledge.

FluentU

legal-english-vocabularyFluentU is the best tool to hear legal English (and many other types of English) in real, native contexts. FluentU provides authentic English videos, like professional dialogues, news reports, inspiring speeches and more, that’ve been transformed into personalized English lessons.

Each video comes with interactive captions, flashcards, exercises and full transcripts. You’ll practice vocabulary and build your skills in a focused way, all while absorbing English the way native speakers really use it at work. FluentU even keeps track of what you’ve learned and suggests new videos based on that information.

For example, you’ll hear lots of legal terminology in this news report about Uber’s former CEO getting sued, or this more lighthearted video about the craziest laws in the U.S. You can check out the full library with all the learning features for free with a FluentU trial.

British Legal Centre’s Legal Vocabulary Test

legal-english-vocabularyThis resource is perfect for testing your knowledge of legal English. The test focuses on commercial legal language and will also give you a chance to practice your grammar.

It’s a multiple choice test, so be sure to review the words and phrases below before trying to complete the test.

 English Vocabulary Exercise: Crime and the Law

To practice legal English related specifically to crime and the courtroom, this exercise will give you some good practice.

You’ll have to use your knowledge of legal English to fill in the missing words and complete the sentences.

“American Legal English”

legal-english-vocabularyThis book focuses on American legal English. It was written specifically for non-native English speakers to help them understand and use legal English.

The book focuses on legal concepts, legal practice and laws in general. The book includes listening and speaking activities as well as exercises for you to practice what you know.

Legal English Vocabulary for the Courtroom and Beyond!

Here are some of the most common and useful legal English words and phrases for you to know!

Courtroom Vocabulary

Accuse

To accuse someone is to declare that someone committed a crime.

It’s often used in the passive voice, to describe the state of someone who is accused or was accused of something.

He was accused of stealing the woman’s wallet.

Advocate

A legal adviser or professional who pleads on behalf of the accused in court.

The advocate asked for her immediate release from jail.

Appeal

To apply to a higher court to change a judge’s decision.

The judge’s decision is unreasonable. Let’s make an appeal

Arrest

To take someone who supposedly did something illegal into police custody.

My sister was arrested last night. I wonder what she did! 

Barrister

A specialized lawyer typically found in England or Australia.

They asked a barrister to give the defendant some advice. 

Capital punishment

Also known as the “death penalty,” when the guilty person is sentenced to death.

The prosecutor wanted capital punishment for the defendant who had killed three people.

Charge

To formally accuse someone of a crime.

The police charged him with murder this morning.

Case

Legal action—something that should be decided on in court.

The police had built a strong case against the robber. 

Civil law

The law that’s not criminal law.

She practices civil law and spends most of her time helping people get divorced.

Convict

Someone who has been found guilty of a crime and is serving a jail sentence.

My uncle is a convict. He has to serve three more years in jail.

Courtroom

The room where the judge hears cases.

We need to be in the courtroom in 10 minutes. 

Criminal law

The law that punishes criminals and people who break the law.

She practices criminal law. Right now she’s working on a robbery case.

Defendant

The person who has been accused of a crime.

The defendant is accused of stealing this woman’s car. 

Defense Attorney

The lawyer who argues for the defendant.

I’m not going to jail. I’ve hired the best defense attorney in the city.

Deposition

Giving sworn evidence, usually written or spoken.

She gave her deposition last week. We will use it in court today.

Evidence

The material that indicates whether someone is guilty of a crime.

There is not enough evidence to convict him. 

Fine

An amount of money that you need to pay when you break a small law.

I got a parking ticket and had to pay a fine

Guilty

Describes the person who committed a crime. After a criminal trial, someone is “found guilty” or “found innocent” (see below).

He was found guilty and will have to go to jail.

Illegal

Against the law.

It is illegal to drive through a red light. 

Innocent

Not guilty of a crime.

She was found innocent and can go home.

Judge

The person who makes the final decision in a legal case.

My cousin is a judge. She decides several small cases every week.

Jury

The group of citizens in a criminal trial who decide whether a person is guilty or not guilty of the crime they’re accused of.

Several English-speaking countries have jury trials, but they can look significantly different in different countries. Some English-speaking countries, such as South Africa, have no jury trials.

The jury took only one hour to find the defendant guilty.

Lawyer

Someone who studied and practices law.

My firm has 10 lawyers on staff, including contract lawyers, a criminal lawyer and a couple of civil law lawyers. 

Misdemeanor

Illegal behavior that’s not considered extremely serious. Usually the guilty party is charged a fine.

She had to pay a fine for vandalism, which is a misdemeanor in this city.

Parole

The early release of someone from jail, often for good behavior, before the end of their prison sentence.

He was granted parole three years before his actual prison sentence would have ended. 

Plea

The defendant’s response of either “guilty” or “innocent” for a crime they’re accused of.

He didn’t steal anything, so he will plead not guilty.

Prosecutor

The lawyer trying to put the defendant in jail.

Be prepared. The prosecutor will ask you many questions.

Subpoena

A formal order to appear in court.

I was subpoenaed and will have to go to court next week to give my testimony.

Sue

To start legal procedures against someone in order to get compensation or payment for damages or wrongdoing.

After he got injured, he decided to sue his boss over the unsafe work environment.

Take the stand

To sit or stand in the courtroom and tell the judge about the crime. Witnesses and defendants can “take the stand.”

She was nervous, but she took the stand and answered all the prosecutor’s questions.

Testify

To give evidence as a witness in the courtroom for or against the defendant.

I had to testify as a witness to the crime.

Testimony

A written or spoken statement about the crime or offense.

He gave testimony to support the defendant’s innocence.

Verdict

The final decision in the courtroom as to whether or not the defendant is guilty or innocent.

She read the final verdict: innocent!

Warrant

An official document instructing the police to arrest someone.

You may also often hear the term “search warrant,” which gives the police permission to search someone’s property for evidence.

There’s a warrant out for his arrest.

Witness

A person who saw the crime taking place and must describe what they saw or heard in the courtroom.

There were several witnesses to the theft.

Crimes

DUI or DWI

“Driving under the influence” or “Driving while intoxicated.” Both terms refer to the offense of driving a vehicle after consuming alcohol.

The slang term for this is drunk driving (U.S.) or drink driving (U.K.).

He lost his license after he got a DWI.

Forgery

Producing a false copy of a signature, document, money or artwork.

Forgery can also be used as a noun to refer to the fake document.

It was an excellent forgery. It took the company days to realize the signature was a fake.

Fraud

Deception in order to gain money.

She was convicted of fraud. She’d been making replica paintings and selling them as the real thing.

Kidnapping

Transporting or holding someone in a location against their will.

He was trying to kidnap the child but the police stopped him as he was driving away.

Murder

Intentionally killing someone.

He murdered his neighbor for playing his music too loud.

Negligence

Not taking proper care of something.

He drove his car onto the sidewalk. No one was hurt, so he was charged with negligence

Perjury

Lying after taking an official oath to tell the truth.

He committed perjury in the courtroom and will have to face the consequences.

Rob

The action of stealing from someone or some place.

A man robbed the house next door last month and now every house in the neighborhood has a security system.

Shoplifting

Stealing items from a store or shop.

He was caught on camera shoplifting a soda and some chips.

Trespass

To go somewhere where you aren’t allowed to go.

He was trespassing on my father’s property so I called the police. 

Vandalism

The deliberate destruction of property.

She was charged with vandalism for spray painting the side of the office building. 

Property

Landlord

The owner of a rental property.

My landlord is very helpful. When the washing machine broke, he bought a new one for the apartment by the end of the week. 

Lease

A formal contract letting someone other than the owner use a property for a certain amount of time and for a certain amount of money.

I signed a two-year lease for the apartment! I can’t wait to move in.

Loan

Money borrowed from a bank or private institution that must be paid back with interest.

I took out several loans to go to college.

Mortgage

A legal agreement from the bank that lends you money to buy a house.

I just bought my first house and have a 30-year mortgage.

Proprietor

The owner of a property or business.

The proprietor is hoping to sell the restaurant and retire.

Rental Agreement

A contract for renting a property without a set amount of time.

I signed my rental agreement today, but I’m not sure how long I’ll be here—maybe just a few months. 

Security Deposit

A payment you make when you rent a property to cover any possible damages that might occur.

I had to pay first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a security deposit, but now I have the keys to my new apartment!

Tenant

The person who’s renting the property.

I’ve been a tenant in this building for two years.

Contracts

Agreement

A negotiated or legal understanding between two or more groups of people.

We’ve finally come to an agreement. Please make the changes in the contract and we’ll sign it tomorrow.

Article

A section in a contract.

In Article 7, it says that you have to notify the company two weeks before you intend to quit.

Default

Failure to make payments on a loan or mortgage. Often used in the past tense.

He lost his job and defaulted on his mortgage payments. He may lose his house.

Fulfill

Carry out a promise or satisfy an agreement.

By signing this contract, you agree to fulfill all of the conditions listed. 

Hereinafter

A term used in contracts that means, “further on in the document.”

Bob’s Computers will be referred to as Company A and Joe’s Electronics will be referred to as Company B hereinafter.

Liable

Legally responsible for something.

Our company is liable if something goes wrong with the new model.

Null and void

Cancelled or invalid.

This contract is null and void the moment you step out of my office! 

On behalf of

For the interests of a group.

The parents sued the hospital on behalf of their newborn child.

Party

The person or group of people on one side of a negotiation, deal or argument.

The two parties need to come to an agreement by the end of the day. 

 

These words and phrases are a great start to improving and building your legal English vocabulary! Take time to become familiar with these words and practice them and you’ll feel more confident speaking English legalese.
 


 

And One More Thing…

What’s the best way to learn English vocabulary for work?

You won’t get it all from textbooks.

You need to hear business English the way native speakers actually use it on the job.

And that’s exactly what FluentU is for. FluentU takes real-world videos—like inspiring talks, movie trailers, news and more—and turns them into personalized and fun English learning lessons.

It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular.

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More to the point, FluentU has an entire business category filled with authentic business-related videos covering six language levels.

To show the variety of videos even inside this single category, real-world business videos on FluentU include “Introducing Business Colleagues,” “Business Buzzwords,” “Control Your Inbox!” and “What Warren Buffet Thinks About Cash.”

An added bonus is that if you want to work on other topics later, simply use the same, familiar FluentU platform to learn with videos from other categories, such as “Science and Tech,” “Politics and Society” or mix it up with “Arts and Entertainment” or “Health and Lifestyle.”

Every spoken word is subtitled, complete with an in-context definition, image and multiple example sentences.

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All you have to do is tap or click on one of the words in those subtitles to get more information. For example, if you tap on the word “brought,” you will see this:

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Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”

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If you are interested in watching fun, relevant videos and practicing language actively in the process, be sure to create a FluentU account and try out this one-of-a-kind language learning program!

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.

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