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.
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.
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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 is the best tool to hear legal English (and many other types of English) in real, native contexts.
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
This 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”
This 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!
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.
A legal adviser or professional who pleads on behalf of the accused in court.
The advocate asked for her immediate release from jail.
To apply to a higher court to change a judge’s decision.
The judge’s decision is unreasonable. Let’s make an appeal.
To take someone who supposedly did something illegal into police custody.
My sister was arrested last night. I wonder what she did!
A specialized lawyer typically found in England or Australia.
They asked a barrister to give the defendant some advice.
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.
To formally accuse someone of a crime.
The police charged him with murder this morning.
Legal action—something that should be decided on in court.
The police had built a strong case against the robber.
The law that’s not criminal law.
She practices civil law and spends most of her time helping people get divorced.
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.
The room where the judge hears cases.
We need to be in the courtroom in 10 minutes.
The law that punishes criminals and people who break the law.
She practices criminal law. Right now she’s working on a robbery case.
The person who has been accused of a crime.
The defendant is accused of stealing this woman’s car.
The lawyer who argues for the defendant.
I’m not going to jail. I’ve hired the best defense attorney in the city.
Giving sworn evidence, usually written or spoken.
She gave her deposition last week. We will use it in court today.
The material that indicates whether someone is guilty of a crime.
There is not enough evidence to convict him.
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.
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.
Against the law.
It is illegal to drive through a red light.
Not guilty of a crime.
She was found innocent and can go home.
The person who makes the final decision in a legal case.
My cousin is a judge. She decides several small cases every week.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The lawyer trying to put the defendant in jail.
Be prepared. The prosecutor will ask you many questions.
A formal order to appear in court.
I was subpoenaed and will have to go to court next week to give my testimony.
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.
To give evidence as a witness in the courtroom for or against the defendant.
I had to testify as a witness to the crime.
A written or spoken statement about the crime or offense.
He gave testimony to support the defendant’s innocence.
The final decision in the courtroom as to whether or not the defendant is guilty or innocent.
She read the final verdict: innocent!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Deception in order to gain money.
She was convicted of fraud. She’d been making replica paintings and selling them as the real thing.
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.
Intentionally killing someone.
He murdered his neighbor for playing his music too loud.
Not taking proper care of something.
He drove his car onto the sidewalk. No one was hurt, so he was charged with negligence.
Lying after taking an official oath to tell the truth.
He committed perjury in the courtroom and will have to face the consequences.
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.
Stealing items from a store or shop.
He was caught on camera shoplifting a soda and some chips.
To go somewhere where you aren’t allowed to go.
He was trespassing on my father’s property so I called the police.
The deliberate destruction of property.
She was charged with vandalism for spray painting the side of the office building.
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.
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.
Money borrowed from a bank or private institution that must be paid back with interest.
I took out several loans to go to college.
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.
The owner of a property or business.
The proprietor is hoping to sell the restaurant and retire.
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.
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!
The person who’s renting the property.
I’ve been a tenant in this building for two years.
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.
A section in a contract.
In Article 7, it says that you have to notify the company two weeks before you intend to quit.
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.
Carry out a promise or satisfy an agreement.
By signing this contract, you agree to fulfill all of the conditions listed.
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.
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.
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...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You'll have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
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