Legal Jargon 101 – breaking down the “technical terms”

The first few months of my job as a Solicitor Apprentice were filled with briefing meetings where I would nod along to the explanation I was being given; only to right after turn to google (or phone-a-friend) to explain what half of the words meant! Generally, the law, as like many other professions in the corporate sphere, is full of jargon that makes it less accessible to anyone without legal training.  I hope to be able to break down some of the “technical terms” I have come to learn, in order to show that it’s not as complicated as you may think.

Studying for my law degree alongside working in an International Corporate Law Firm has led me to take on a great amount of knowledge in a short space of time.  As such, I have learnt about both theoretical terms (those that are useful in legal problem questions) and practical ones (that I hear day to day in the office or in emails from colleagues).  I will preface this by saying that this is in no way an exhaustive list, and I am still coming across terms all the time that I don’t know!  But, as an entry point to help increase accessibility to the legal profession, the below should help:

General:

  • Secondment – the temporary assignment of an employee from one organisation to another for a set amount of time, sometimes for a particular purpose or project - e.g. a solicitor may be ‘seconded’ from their law firm to a client’s business to work on specific legal issues in their in-house team
  • Seat – the set period of time you spend in a specific department in a law firm before rotating and trying the work in a different area, typically undertaken as a trainee - e.g. you may do four 6-month ‘seats’ in your training contract
  • Billable – the time a lawyer spends working on something for a client that the client is charged for, monitored by way of timing every task completed throughout the day - e.g. you may have a task to draft a document for a client that takes 2 hours, this would be billable; you may then undertake some personal development training that takes 1 hour, that would not be billable
  • COB / COP – standing for Close Of Business / Close of Play, these terms are used most often in connection with time targets for tasks, to indicate their urgency - e.g. “I need this by COB today” would mean the task should be done by the end of the working day
  • OOO – standing for Out Of Office, you will most commonly see this in automated responses from people on annual leave, or in conversation when they are telling you they will be off work
  • Contentious – legal work that relates to a dispute between 2 or more parties, as opposed to non-contentious work which is not related to a dispute and is usually more transactional
  • Litigation – the term used to describe all of the processes involved in taking a dispute to court

People:

  • Fee Earner – an employee who directly generates income for the firm by undertaking work that is billable to clients - e.g. a law firm is made up of fee-earners and non-fee-earners, who are most often known as business support staff
  • Trainee – a prospective lawyer who is completing their final training by undertaking the necessary 2 year qualifying work experience within a law firm or in-house legal team
  • NQ – standing for Newly Qualified, is the position of junior associates who have just completed their training contract and are undertaking their first year as a fully qualified Solicitor
  • PQE – standing for Post-Qualified Experience, means the number of years that a lawyer has held their practicing certificate - e.g. someone 3 years PQE has been practicing law, since qualifying, for 3 years

Documents:

  • Bundle – the folder or pack of documents produced for court before a hearing that should contain all documents relevant for the court’s review, ordered as efficiently as possible
  • Bible – an ordered final set of documents that were signed in relation to a transaction that cumulatively allow the transaction to be effective - e.g. you may be asked to make a ‘bible’ of the transaction documents based on a documents list, which details the names of the documents needed to enact the transaction in the order they need to be executed
  • Ancillary – any documents necessary to be enacted in conjunction with the main transaction document - e.g. a Share Purchase Agreement may dictate that board minutes of the company are needed to approve aspects of the transaction
  • Precedent – an example document of the document you need to execute which has been produced for a previous, similar transaction 
  • SF – standing for Standard Form, this is a template document which is a skeleton of the document you need to produce, which you would then populate with the deal-specific information

Latin Terms:

  • Prima Facie – ‘at first sight’, is a lower-level standard of proof in civil and criminal cases that relates to sufficient evidence existing to support a case
  • Habeas Corpus – ‘you may have the body’, stemming from medieval times, it is the constitutional notion that no one can be unlawfully imprisoned
  • Ultra Vires – ‘beyond the powers’, used to describe an act done by a public authority that is out of scope of the powers conferred on them by law, thus an invalid and illegal act
  • Pari Passu – ‘on equal footing’, used often in transactional documents in relation to rights attached to assets, to note that the holders of such rights have no priority or preference over one another
  • Bona Fide – ‘in good faith’, in relation to transactions the phrase is used to stress the absence of fraud or deceit
  • Mens Rea – ‘guilty mind’, meaning the mental element of a person’s intention to commit a crime - e.g. a crime committed without mens rea may have a lesser punishment as there was no mental intention to commit the crime

Bodies relevant to the Legal Profession:

  • SRA – the Solicitor Regulation Authority, the regulatory body for Solicitors in England and Wales who aim to protect the public and maintain the high standards of the profession by ensuring Solicitors and their law firms comply with rules and regulations
  • BSB – the Bar Standards Board, the regulatory body for Barristers in England and Wales whose aims are similar to those of the SRA, as well as having responsibility for Barrister’s education and training
  • CH – Companies House, the UK’s registrar of companies that manage company incorporation, dissolution, and regulation (of company records), and make all information available to the public
  • LSE – the London Stock Exchange, the main stock exchange in the UK, where larger companies (and governments) can raise capital from investors by selling securities (e.g. shares) to grow their business’
  • AIM – the Alternative Investment Market, a subset of the main market that is designed to help smaller companies access capital from the public market
  • CMA – the Competition Markets Authority, an independent department of the UK government, are responsible for investigating competition and markets to protect public (consumer) interests and prevent companies abusing dominant market positions

Now, this may seem like a lot of information to take in, but don’t worry, you’re not expected to remember everything straight away.  But, if you are looking at starting a career in the legal world (or would just like to impress a lawyer you know!), then some of these terms will be invaluable.  It is a personal goal of mine to ensure that I contribute to the creation of more equal opportunity in the legal world.  The profession being more diverse and inclusive is key to it being representative of the population it ultimately represents.  I believe this starts with accessibility and breaking down barriers such as terminology, so hopefully this guide does just that!

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