Legal Vocabulary With Definitions: A Step Toward Understanding the Laws

Elly Kimreviewed byNataliia Afonina / more about Editorial Process11 min
Created: Feb 14, 2023Last updated: Jan 21, 2024
Legal Vocabulary With Definitions

What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about legal vocabulary? You are only partially correct if you imagine something boring and suitable only for judges or law students. Learning some legal terms is helpful and exciting, even though it is a narrow specialty. In this article, we’ll explain this thrilling topic in layperson’s terms. So, all rise, the court is in session. Just kidding. Let’s relax and dive into the fascinating world of legal English.

What Is Law Terminology, And Who Needs It?

As you can guess from its name, legal terminology is closely related to the law and jurisdiction. It is the variety of words, expressions, and phrases you can primarily hear in courtrooms, police departments, or law schools. But if these are mostly lawyer words, why do we need them? The truth is that more people than you thought should understand legal terms. But who are they? 

  • All law-and-order-related professions. Of course, the first people who come to our mind are the ones we’ve already mentioned – lawyers, attorneys, prosecutors, judges, police officers, law teachers, detectives, etc. They all should know enough legal words to master their profession. 
  • Government officials. It is not a big surprise that people who make laws should understand law terms as well. That is why all elected officials should know enough legal expressions and words. 
  • Translators. Another popular profession that always requires more knowledge than you might think. People who translate from English to any other language should have a reasonably extensive vocabulary to do their job correctly. And we are not talking about legal interpreters only. If you are a fiction translator who wants to work on one of the John Grisham books, you should be well-prepared.
  • Journalists. People in this rather creative profession should also know enough legal terms and expressions to do their job correctly. Whether you write an article or interview someone, knowing professional vocabulary will always come in handy. 
  • True-crime fans. No kidding! If you like serial-killer-murder-mystery-crime movies and YouTube videos as much as we do, you need to learn a few law word examples always to stay up-to-date and understand the plot. 
  • Literally everyone. To be accurate, we think every citizen of every country should learn basic legal terms. It is for your good because you never know what life has prepared for you. It doesn’t have to be something terrible; of course, we are not talking about homicide or anything else. But in some cases, the more terminology you know, the more confident you will feel in different circumstances. 

Learning legal terms’ definitions is essential not only in your native language but also in English. Of course, we wish you never to get into situations where you might need lawyers’ and judges’ help, but life is unpredictable. Hence, we believe it is better to learn a few terms in advance and always be prepared. And that is what we are going to discuss next. 

An Ultimate Guide To Legal Terms And Meanings

There are thousands of terms professional lawyers use. But relax – we won’t explain them all to you. Instead, we will provide a list of the most common legal word examples you can always hear on the TV or even use in your daily conversations. 

Basic Legal Terms To Know

Let’s start with something easy. Some words are considered legal, and yet we all know their definitions. Below, you will find a few general terms primarily used in daily conversations between people unrelated to law. 

  • An agreement is an arrangement between two or more people in case of doing or not doing something.
  • A lawsuit is a dispute between people or organizations taken to court for a legal solution. 
  • A case is an event or series of circumstances dealt with by police, lawyers, jury, etc.
  • A court is an area where lawsuits and other legal issues happen.
  • A criminal is a person who violates the law by committing a crime.
  • A witness is a person who saw the act of crime.
  • An appeal is a request to the court to reconsider the previous verdict. 
  • A judge is the main person on trial who decides whether the person is guilty.

These are the legal word examples you can mostly hear from police officers since they also must know many law-related terms. And now, let’s move to the courtroom and see what English words we can find there. 

Courtroom Terms

Let’s start from the beginning. What is the courtroom? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is a place where the court meets. Here you can see all the lawyers, prosecutors, and other representatives of the law-related professions. Below, you will find some lawyer terms to know in the courtroom and examples of using them in sentences. 

  • Civil law

It is the branch of law that relates to personal and non-criminal matters, like divorce, marriage, property, etc. For example: 

I can easily divorce him without breaking civil law. 

London’s citizens are suing the company under civil law.

  • Criminal law

This term describes the branch of law that deals with crimes and punishes criminals for breaking the rules. For example:

He was sentenced to fifteen years for breaking a criminal law. 

We can’t just violate the criminal law.

  • Trial

Another word for this legal term is hearing – the examination of pieces of evidence in the courtroom to prove (or refute) one’s guilt and choose the punishment. For example: 

I will testify at today’s trial. 

The news of the trial was all over the newspapers. 

  • Prosecutor

It is a person in a courtroom who accuses one of committing a crime. Most often on the plaintiff's side. For example: 

The prosecutor requested fifteen years in prison for the defendant. 

My father is a prosecutor.

  • Felony

A serious crime. A person who committed a felony might be sentenced to one or more years in prison. For example: 

His felony charge can lead to the death penalty. 

He was charged with felony murder.

  • Defendant

It is a person in the courtroom accused of committing a crime or breaking the law. For example:

The judge gave the word to the defendant.

Paparazzi spotted the defendant crying after sentencing.

  • Jury

It is a group of people in the court who examine the evidence and decide whether the defendant is guilty. For example:

My mom was a member of the jury once. 

The jury found the defendant not guilty.

  • Parole

This term describes the legal permission to release a person from prison before finishing their sentence period. For example:

He was sentenced to twenty years in prison without parole.

The defendant hopes to be released on parole.

  • Subpoena

It is one of the common legal terms used to describe a document that orders someone to appear in court. For example:

My father received a subpoena. 

He was subpoenaed as a witness.

  • Verdict

This term defines a decision made by a judge at the end of the trial after examining all the facts and evidence. For example:

The judge is ready to pronounce his verdict. 

The verdict was disappointing for the perpetrator.

  • Forgery

It is a type of crime. It means breaking the law by making illegal copies of documents, pieces of art, etc. For example:

He was accused of forgery. 

He was sentenced to one year in prison for forgery.

  • Kidnapping

This term describes the violation of the law in the form of abduction and retention of a person. For example:

Kidnapping is my biggest fear. 

His daughter was kidnapped from the street.

  • Murder

Another term that describes the violation of the law. It means the process of taking one’s life. Murder is considered one of the worst crimes. For example:

He was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder. 

I always knew that he was capable of murder.

  • Perjury

This word means giving false testimony in court under oath. For example: 

I can’t believe she was able to commit perjury. 

The prosecutor requested two years for committing perjury.

  • Fraud

It is the process of taking one’s money or property by scamming and deceiving a person. For example:

There is a lot of online fraud nowadays. 

He was accused of fraud.

  • Custody

This term means the process of staying under arrest before the trial. For example: 

He was accused of kidnapping and is now in custody. 

They’ve taken him in custody.

  • Death penalty

It is the severest punishment for criminals in the form of taking their life. It is only allowed in case of the most horrible crimes. Today, this punishment is restricted in most countries. For example:

He was sentenced to the death penalty for first-degree murder. 

She believes that the death penalty is inhumane.


Bonus! Pop Culture Sources To Learn Legal Terminology Words

Phew, this topic can be terrifying. Hence, we offer to distract you from all these harsh terms, murders, and verdicts and discuss something exciting and valuable. Yes, we are talking about movies and TV shows. There are plenty of law-related films in the cinematography. Below, you will find three of our all-time favorites. They will help you practice your English and learn a lot of law terms to know how to use them in their natural habitat. 

How To Get Away With Murder

We hope you know this one; if not, we highly recommend starting to watch it immediately. It is the story of Annalise Keating, a prominent lawyer, and her team of five students. During the show, they face dozens of crimes and trials, and the main character’s story captures the viewer from the very first seconds. 

It is one of the best modern law-related TV series. Here you can look at the American justice system and its benefits and drawbacks. Since this show contains countless professional terms and expressions, we recommend it to viewers with B2 and higher English proficiency levels. After watching this TV series, you will expand your vocabulary and learn a lot about US laws. 

Law And Order

It is probably the most iconic TV show that has fans all around the world. The pilot episode was released over thirty years ago, in 1990. Since then, viewers have seen 21 seasons and hundreds of spin-offs, movies, video games, etc. This story is not finished; today, the creators are working on the twenty-second season.

This story is about (guess what) criminals, police officers, and prosecutors. Every episode of the show pictures detectives solving the crime and prosecutors seeking a guilty verdict for the defendant. Once again, due to the high amount of professional terminology, we offer this show to students with B2+ fluency levels. But we can guarantee that after watching at least a few seasons, you will be shocked by the number of law words you will learn.

American Crime Story

Last but not least TV show on our list is one based on true events. This show has only three seasons, every one of which is dedicated to one true crime. Even though it is a fiction show, it pictures actual events – the O. J. Simpson murder case, the mystery of Gianni Versace's death, and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. 

This show has also been officially renewed for the fourth season, but unfortunately, there is no information about it yet. However, we hope to see it soon because it is also a perfect TV series for practicing English and learning new law-related terms to expand vocabulary. And after all, you need to check the cast. We are confident that you will like them. 

How Promova Can Help You Get Legal Terms Explained

Proper use of legal terms requires legal education and years of practice. But if you are not going to defend someone in court, you can learn law-related words by yourself. Even though it is not a simple task, it is still possible. You can try to reach this goal by reading tons of materials over the Internet. Or, you can seek help from professional tutors who will be happy to help. 

Promova teachers know how to meet the needs of different students. You can pass the simple test to determine your fluency level and join our personal or group lessons to practice. It will help our tutors prepare a curriculum based on your interests and make your studying fascinating and valuable. Who said that learning legal terms is boring? With Promova, you will be excited after every lesson.

And if you want to practice alone, you can easily install a convenient and modern Promova application. It is suitable for iOS and Android devices, and more importantly, it is free. After passing a quick test to determine your English level, you can access hundreds of exciting topics and useful lessons. Visit the official Promova website now and choose the options that suit you.


To sum up, we can say only one thing – we wish you never to use the vocabulary from this article in practice. After all, never facing courts, trials, and verdicts is a good idea. Yet, we still offer you to remember some words just because you never know how your life might turn out. And that’s it for now. We hope that you find this article helpful. And don’t forget to share your favorite law-related TV shows in the comments section because we are looking for something new to watch.


What is the law terminology?

It is a specialized terminology that is used on legal occasions. It includes terms and expressions used by lawyers, judges, jurors, police officers, elected officials, and other law-related professions. You can also hear such terminology in TV shows and movies related to this topic. Legal vocabulary includes hundreds of words, like a court, verdict, defendant, etc.

Why is it essential to learn legal terms?

First of all, learning legal terminology is essential for people in law-related professions. They need to know how to use different terms. And for regular citizens, it is as important as knowing the law itself. It expands your vocabulary, broadens your mind, and allows you to understand the subject better and keep up any conversation. Finally, it just helps you be prepared for unexpected situations.

What is civil law?

Civil law is the branch of the law related to people’s relationships rather than crimes. It includes different topics – marriage, divorce, property, etc. Punishments for violating civil law are usually more loyal than those for a crime. They mostly involve financial payments and other types of civil fines. Yet, breaking the civil law is still illegal, so we recommend you avoid it.

What are the best sources to practice English and learn lawyer vocabulary?

If you are keen to learn law-related words, you can check legal dictionaries, like the US Glossary of Legal Terms. And if you want to understand how to use such terms, you can find different video materials. It includes sources like actual hearings or various fictional movies and TV shows. Our favorite examples in this genre are TV shows How to Get Away With Murder and Law And Order and movies Law Abiding Citizen and The Judge.


DEEGANJan 25th, 2024
A big thank you to the author for shedding light on such an important issue.
PromovaJul 27th, 2023
Thank you for your positive feedback! Having a grasp of legal terminology allows individuals to communicate effectively with legal professionals from different cultural backgrounds, promoting clarity and understanding in legal matters that involve multicultural perspectives.
Julia T.Jul 27th, 2023
I really like this article! How can an understanding of legal vocabulary contribute to cross-cultural communication, especially in diverse legal environments?