10 Legal Terms that Should Be in Your Vocabulary Part 1

In this day and age of people being sued at the drop of a hat, it’s a good idea to have at least a basic knowledge of key legal terms. While it may seem as though lawyers have their own language at times, we’ve simplified things for you and come up with ten of the most important legal terms the average person should know.

Credibility

Stripped down to the basics, credibility is how believable you are. Your ability to appear honest and trustworthy while sharing your side of a story can make or break a case. Your credibility is always at stake and begins with being completely open and honest with your attorneys right out of the gate. Credibility is on display in the courtroom as well as outside, since your day to day actions can persuade a judge or jury to decide you are not a credible person.

Bonus legal term: Incredible in lawyer speak actually means a person is not believable, or simply put, a liar.

Damages

Money. This is what someone receives as compensation in a lawsuit. Damages can be broken down into several subcategories such as economic damages (lost wages, lost profit, out-of-pocket expenses, etc.) and non-economic damages (physical injuries, emotional distress, permanent disability, quality of life change, etc.). For business law suits there are even more but no matter what the case, damages are the monetary losses suffered that can be recovered in a lawsuit.

Default

This is the process of when a court prevents either the plaintiff or defendant from moving forward with their claims or defenses because they failed to do something required by the rules of the court or law. Judges can also remove or lift a default once the party fulfills the requirement that is in question.

Defendant

In a civil case, this is the person who is defending themselves in a lawsuit. In criminal cases this is the person who is arrested and charged with a crime or wrongdoing.

Plaintiff

This is the person who files a law suit (also referred to as a claimant) or the person who is seeking to recover damages committed by a defendant.

Testify

When you make a statement (or testimony) under oath. You can testify at trial, a deposition or in an affidavit (a written statement under oath). Credible testimony is both truthful and believable.

Liability

This is the term lawyers use to say that a defendant is responsible for damages. During a lawsuit for example, one side is trying to prove that someone is liable for the injuries or damages suffered by another party.

Deposition

Formal question and answer sessions where a witness testifies under oath outside of the courtroom, usually in a lawyer’s office. The testimony is transcribed word for word and, the witness has the opportunity to sign off on the transcript, confirming its accuracy. However, once they confirm it as accurate a witness does have the right to make changes if he or she feels the transcript is false or misleading.

Dismissal

When a judge decides to end a case.  Not all are the same though.  Adismissal with prejudice means that the case can never be reopened.  Adismissal without prejudice allows the case to be reopened at another time.

Docket

The list of cases scheduled in a court.  When you hear that you’re case “is on the docket” that means it is on the schedule for some type of hearing.

Legal terms can be intimidating but this list will help you feel more comfortable with some of the common jargon you’ll hear from lawyers. Because we love sharing this type of information with you, we’re publishing a Part Two next week so stay tuned!

Are there any legal terms you hear often and aren’t quite sure what they mean? Let us know in the comments below.