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Decoding Legal Jargon: A Glossary for Litigation Novices

Legal jargon.

Decoding Legal Jargon: A Glossary for Litigation Novices

Even if your only experience with the court system is watching daytime court shows, you know one thing about it. Even the simplest concepts are described with legal jargon that is confusing and rarely used outside of a court setting.

That’s a problem. The complex legal jargon used in the courtroom makes the system less accessible for the average person, opens up room for unnecessary mistakes in a variety of situations, and generally overcomplicates things.

However, it’s a necessary evil. Legal jargon provides succinct descriptions for complicated parts of the court process and ensures that there aren’t any misconceptions. At least, when you know how to use that jargon it provides that sense of clarity.

To help you engage with the court system more effectively, we’re going to go over much of the legal jargon that you’re likely to come across.

Let’s get started.


Why Understand Legal Jargon?


In the best-case scenario, you never have to deal with the court. No one wants to have to sue someone, get sued, seek justice for a horrible oversight, debate over who gets the most belongings in a divorce, or anything like that. That’s why the court system has such a bad public perception. You never go for a positive reason.


So, you might think there’s no reason to learn legal jargon that’s only used in court because you have no intent to go to court.


Unfortunately, the best-case scenario isn’t what most people get.


At some point, you will likely find yourself in a courtroom. Whether that’s because you’ve committed a crime or you’re having a dispute with your neighbor over fence damage, you will eventually be in a courtroom. Even if you manage to live a squeaky-clean life, you will likely end up on jury duty.


Being able to participate in those situations effectively is key. Not only does it determine how likely you are to have a positive outcome in your case, but even if you’re just doing jury duty, someone else’s livelihood and well-being are in your hands.


Just like conversing with friends or being able to work effectively, the way you communicate and understand what the other side is saying is crucial for engaging in a court environment.


The Top Legal Jargon Terms to Know


Now that we’ve gone over why you need to understand some basic legal jargon, it’s time to talk about what the most commonly used terms are. We won’t go over obscure terms or things that are highly specific for certain situations, but we will cover all the basics to make sure you’re primed for the courtroom if need be.

Decoding legal jargon.

1: Litigation

In general, litigation refers to taking action in court. It’s typically used to describe cases that are disputes rather than criminal cases.

For example, if your neighbor’s tree falls on your fence, and they refuse to pay for the damage caused, you might need to sue them to get the funds for repairing the fence. That’s litigation. Workplace disputes, lawsuits, contract breaches, and similar things would all fall under litigation.

Usually, companies and other entities that can afford to take legal action over a larger variety of situations tend to be the ones dealing with litigation the most. That does not mean it’s exclusive to those groups, though. The average person will typically find themselves in some sort of litigation at some point.


2: Plaintiff

A plaintiff is the person taking legal action first. Using the fence damage example from earlier, if you were the one suing your neighbor because they truly took down your fence, you would be the plaintiff.

In a typical litigation case, the plaintiff is seeking money or some other compensation due to the cause of the dispute, and the amount asked for is determined by the overall losses experienced.


3: Defendant

The defendant is the opposite party of the plaintiff. Again, using the fence example, your neighbor would be the defendant.

Defendants don’t reach out to take legal action. They’re defending themselves against it. However, they are capable of making a counterclaim.

For example, if your neighbor insists that the tree was properly taken care of and something out of their control caused the damages, or that you’re asking for more than your fence is worth, they can make a counterclaim demanding you pay for the court costs they’ve incurred while defending themselves.

This is a simplistic way of looking at it, but it’s the most typical situation you’ll see.


4: Litigator

A litigator is a lawyer who specializes in handling litigation cases. There are various types of litigators, and they all tend to specialize in specific types of cases. For example, some might deal in domestic disputes, while business litigators focus on massive corporate lawsuits, and others only focus on injury cases.

Litigator is simply an umbrella term. You should seek a litigator who is experienced with the type of case you’re dealing with.


5: Witness

 This is your standard witness. This is someone who was around when the event occurred and can testify that they saw or heard something happen firsthand. There are also character witnesses who can attest to your traits as a person, and other types of witnesses.

These are crucial for most cases because they provide a third-party perspective of the events that caused the litigation to take place.


6: Expert Witness

An expert witness is a special type of witness. They didn’t see anything happen, and they’re not even connected to the case. Instead, they’re experts in a field relevant to the case.

Let’s say that your neighbor is claiming that their tree was perfectly cared for and the reason you experienced so much damage is because you didn’t take care of your fence.

An expert witness in that case could be an arborist. They’re experts in trees and tree maintenance, and they can determine that your neighbor let the tree grow in a way that posed a serious threat to your property. On the other hand, the defendant could hire an arborist as an expert witness to prove that their tree couldn’t possibly cause all the damage you’re claiming.

Expert witnesses must be completely detached from the case. They’re supposed to be neutral parties testifying purely based on their professional experiences.


7: Discovery

Discovery is an early part of the court process that includes gathering evidence, preparing testimonies, and presenting everything to the court before the trial takes place.

In essence, consider this a prep phase. Your litigator will take care of the majority of it and guide you through anything you have to contribute to the process.


8: Trial

You likely know what this is, but it’s important to differentiate between a trial and other common solutions that we’ll talk about soon.

A trial is a formal legal process held before a judge. This is typically the solution when other solutions haven’t been successful. Our next term will help explain this a little more.


9: Dispute Resolution

Dispute resolution is something you do before a trial becomes necessary in cases where it’s possible to resolve without the court.

In dispute resolution cases, you still get a litigator to help represent your needs and demands, but it’s more or less a debate in a closed room. Both parties are present, and there’s a mediator who keeps everything civil and on topic.

This is a desirable way to resolve problems because once the court is involved, the result is purely based on what the law says. There’s not much room for making agreements, finding common ground, and other things that two civil individuals can do.

A good example is if you and your neighbor have the fence issue we discussed, but both of you think you can find a reasonable solution without getting a judge involved. You both hire litigators, you set up an official meeting in a courthouse room, and with the help of a mediator and your legal counsel, you debate the issue.

Instead of one side winning and the other side being left to pay whatever the court demanded, you can come up with better solutions. Maybe your neighbor can pay for the damage in payments, or they can agree to buy the materials and fix the fence within a certain timeframe. Maybe they can agree to pay for the fence but remove the tree itself from your property with their household tools?

These are resolutions that are mutually beneficial for both parties and in many cases, this process can preserve relationships.

In most cases, you should look for a way to use the dispute resolution system before taking things to court.


10: Out-of-Court Settlement

This is when you use dispute resolution to resolve a case or agree to stop the court process and agree to a mutually beneficial form of compensation.

You’ve likely seen this on the news before. Perhaps two companies got into a dispute, and one sued the other for 25 million dollars. The next time you hear about it, you hear that they “settled out of court”.

When someone settles out of court in a high-profile case like that, you never find out how much money was involved, the terms of the agreement, or anything like that. It’s a lot more private, and while the person settling usually gets less, it does reduce court costs and time spent arguing.

Think of this as the term for the reward of dispute resolution.


11: Testimony

A testimony is what someone says when they stand in front of the court and share their side of the story.

This is an official statement, and it’s one given under oath. In general, the rules are that it must be an account of what happened from your perspective that is accurate. In short, you can’t get in front of the court and lie or try to manipulate the court.

However, in the case of expert witnesses, testimonies are more complicated. Opinions, third-party information, and similar things aren’t allowed. All information presented in an expert witness’s testimony must be based on their first-hand professional experience.


12: Jury

The jury is a group of 12 randomly selected, and then screened for compliance with legal regulations, individuals. These are people just like you. They receive a letter in the mail telling them they’ve been selected for jury duty, and if they pass the screening process, they watch your case and form a judgment that the judge takes into consideration.

You probably already knew what a jury was, but it’s important to understand that they’re just regular people. They might be the same fast-food workers serving you lunch every day, or they might be your trash man. As such, several aspects of your case need to be geared toward convincing them you’re in the right and making sure they understand everything from a legal perspective. Many expert witnesses are hired specifically to explain things to the jury.


Learning New Legal Jargon: When and Why


What we’ve gone over so far is going to be relevant to nearly every case of litigation. It’s a very general-use rundown. However, you’ll likely hear new terms that you don’t understand whenever you engage with the court system. Those less general terms tend to be used in more specific situations, and the best way to ensure that you understand what you’re doing in the court and what is happening is to have a professional there to guide you.


This is why hiring a litigator is such an undervalued legal move. Not only does a litigator take a lot of the responsibility off your shoulders when presenting the case and gathering information, but they will also be able to break things down into layman’s terms.


Get the Legal Consultation You Need to Thrive in Court


Legal situations are never fun. No one wants to go through that even if they expect a big paycheck in the end. However, it’s a necessary process that most will engage with at some point.

We’ve given you some basic insight into the legal jargon used in the courtroom, but we can’t possibly cover it all. 


If you find yourself engaging with the legal system, call Litigation Legal Insight for the consultation services you need to make smart decisions with your upcoming case.