The law student jargon dictionary

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By Katie King on

The words wannabe lawyers use to show off


Lawyers have been advised to shake the habit and stop using complicated legal jargon, and instead adopt plain English so the public don’t get confused.

The Legal Services Board is telling solicitors and barristers to make themselves more accessible by speaking in plain English, and a report has been produced comparing the profession unfavourably to other industries, such as finance and healthcare, in this respect.

The bad habits start from an early age — in law school. From ‘consideration’ to ‘reasonable’, there’s a catalogue of words that mean something totally different to law students than the rest of the population. And then there are the words that lawyers-to-be use just to show off.

The Legal Cheek law student jargon dictionary exposes the worst abuses…

Ab initio

What it means: a fancy latin way of saying “from the beginning”

Showy off law student example sentence:

There was no way I was making it into the club that night, I was too drunk ab initio.


What it means: stuff

Really don’t know what to get Ellie for her birthday, she’s got so many chattels anyway.


What it means: the more serious category of criminal offences, triable in the Crown Court

Wearing a skirt as short as the one Polly wore last week should be an indictable offence.


What it means: seller

I’ve definitely got a crush on that vendor that works behind the cocktail bar in town .

Mens rea

What it means: more fancy latin, this time meaning “guilty mind”

No way did Sarah cheat on Michael. And even if she did she wouldn’t have had the requisite mens rea for him to dump her for it.

Inter alia

What it means: amongst other things

I’ve heard that that new girl from halls is, inter alia, a bit of a slut.


What it means: a criminal offence, unlawful touching

Witnessed a battery today — the Big Issue seller patted my friend on the shoulder when she gave him some money.


What it means: the relationship between a beneficiary and a trustee

Cannot believe my mum lost that tenner I lent her — definitely a breach of her fiduciary duty to me.

Bona fide

What it means: legit

Asking people to help me fund my gap year isn’t morally wrong, it’s a bona fide charitable cause.


What it means: the less important bit of court judgments

Yeah my land law tutor did ask me to read the easements chapter again, but I’m pretty sure that was just obiter.


What it means: to pass something on to someone else

I heard Marie has freshers flu, hopefully she won’t bequeath it to me.


What it means: to refrain from exercising a legal right

I do have a right to get into this club, but I’m going to forbear and get a Dominos instead.

Stare decisis

What it means: sticking to previous decisions/case law

I did show up late to work by two hours on Sunday morning, but given that I did that last week too and got away with it, the doctrine of stare decisis means my supervisor’s not going to fire me for it.

My learned friend

What it means: how barristers refer to one another in the courtroom

If I refer to the librarian ask my learned friend, do you think she’ll let me off that £18 fine?


What it means: power/authority to make decisions in a certain area

Does this bouncer even have jurisdiction to deny me entry into this club?


What it means: doctrine pioneered by Lord Denning to circumvent rigid legal rules if these lead to injustice

Yes, I did promise Matt a lift to Reading Festival but he’s been annoying me lately so I’m hoping promissory estoppel will intervene.

Malice aforethought

What it means: mens rea for murder

There’s so many journals on this criminal law reading list I bet my tutor had malice aforethought when she wrote it.

Wednesbury unreasonableness

What it means: a decision so unreasonable that no reasonable person acting reasonably could have made it

The exam officers has moved our public law exam forward! That is so Wednesbury unreasonable of them!


What it means: fancy way of saying renting, holding a property by lease

Thinking of requesting a leasehold for my favourite space in the library, at least until my dissertation is done anyway.


What it means: very small, e.g. nominal damages

Yeah I’m not really feeling our new housemate, his banter is pretty nominal.


What it means: suspending until a later date

Am planning on calling the exams office to request an adjournment for our criminal law exam until I get my laptop fixed.

Prima facie

What it means: correct until proved otherwise

I’m pretty sure my lecturer knows I haven’t done the further reading, but I’ll just tell him that, prima facie, I have.

Sui generis

What it means: unique

I’ve never seen anyone as good looking as my new EU law professor. He is totally sui generis.

Bona vacantia

What it means: something without a legal owner

Yeah I did some minesweeping in Pryzm last Saturday, that bottle of wine in the smoking area was bona vacantia so who cares anyway?


What it means: without physical presence

Yes I have started working on my revision notes, they’re just kind of intangible at the moment.

Ultra vires

What it means: beyond legal power

The barman cannot refuse to serve me! That’s totally ultra vires of him!