A List of Legal Terminology Everyone Should Understand

One of the most mystifying parts of the law is the language. There are certain terms of art that are used commonly in the regular world but that carry special meanings within the world of law. Below are just a few of the terms that everyone should know.

Act of God

An Act of God is a legal term that appears most often in contract law. Acts of God are unforeseen acts that interfere with the execution of the contract, but that are otherwise unable to be protected against. This is a term that you’ll commonly see in insurance law, so make sure you know what constitutes one of these acts before you file.


Bankruptcy is a procedure used to deal with the debts of an individual or business. There are a few different types of bankruptcy, each of which carries different consequences. Bankruptcy does not, however, always mean that a business being sold or shut down.

Burden of Proof

The burden of proof refers to the determination of who has to prove a matter at court. If you are involved in a criminal matter, the state carries the burden of proof. There are some defenses that do require the person on trial to provide proof, however. Generally speaking, the burden of proof tends to be on the party that brings the case to court.

De Facto and De Jure

These terms mean “in fact” and “in law”. While you might think they mean the same thing, there can be a huge difference between a legal definition and a real-world definition. If you’re worried about the rules, you need to look at what the de jure findings have been.

Default Judgment

Default judgment is what happens when a defendant doesn’t show up in a court case. If you are subpoenaed by a credit company and don’t show up, for example, the court will tend to award a default judgment. Even if you don’t think a suit has merit, you should show up to prevent this kind of judgment.

Due Process

Due process is the standard legal process that must be followed in any case. Having your due process rights violated is a very big deal and definitely, that is cause for concern. Due process is a protected right under the United States Constitution.


A felony is typically defined as a crime that carries a sentence of over one year in prison. Felonies can also bring with them significant restrictions on your future rights. Felonies must always be taken seriously.


Infractions are the minor violations which usually don’t even require a court appearance. Parking tickets, for example, are infractions.


A misdemeanor charge lies somewhere between an infraction and a felony charge. Misdemeanors tend to carry with them hefty fines and possible jail time, but don’t have the long-term consequences of a felony.


A conditional release of a prisoner that requires his or her observation by a government official. Generally considered a period of partial freedom in which the prisoner must meet certain obligations, but is otherwise free to return to his or her life.


A period of observation assigned to an individual in lieu of being sent to jail. Generally a lesser sentence, but those who fail to meet their probation requirements can find themselves in even more trouble.


A subpoena is an order to appear before a court. A subpoena does not mean that you are being sued or that you are in trouble; in fact, most subpoenas are issued to individuals who are going to testify on behalf of one party or another at court.

Wage Garnishment

An order by the court to take the wages from one’s check and pay them to another party. This is essentially an order by the court that makes the other party a creditor against the paychecks of the defendant.

These are only a handful of the legal terms that are important to know. If you’re confronted by legalese, don’t bluff your way through – do your research or talk to an attorney. Ignorance of the law – or its terms – is no defense.

Follow Us

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *