Legal Terms Every Paralegal Should Know

March 20, 2017

Law can be extremely complex, especially to those who do not have much experience with it. This is why attorneys got to school for many years and get paid the big bucks to help interpret and work it. Paralegals are an instrumental part of an attorney’s team. As a paralegal, you would be required to know some specific components of law to ensure you are able to properly aid the attorney.

There are many terms within the law that can be misunderstood or confused with another term. For example, the terms “assault” and “battery” both denote a physical attack, but one is far more serious than the other. They are not interchangeable terms. There are also some terms that can mean many different things. For example, the term “lynch” is defined by the California Penal Code 405a as “the taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer” (Source: According to many news and historical sources, the term is used to describe an unlawful hanging of a person. As a paralegal, there are many specific legal terms that you will need to know and understand to ensure you perform your job properly.

Here are some of the most common terms you will likely run across while serving as a paralegal that you should be familiar with:

  • Adjective Law(or Procedural Law)- The area of the law that deals with procedural rules of evidence, pleadings, and practice.
  • Administrative Law – The area of law that concerns government agencies specifically.
  • Cause of Action – This is the reason for which a plaintiff files a complaint or suit against another party. Examples of causes of action include, but are not limited to, negligence, breach of contract, or malpractice. When a cause of action is listed, it is divided into elements, with each element needing to be proved to win the case.
  • Civil Law –This can be used as the generic term for all non-criminal law, however it usually applies to settling disputes between private citizens or entities.
  • Compensatory Damages –This is monetary rewards that are recovered for injury or economic loss by the plaintiff. Examples include reimbursement for medical bills, physical therapy, and lost wages.
  • Constitutional Law –Law prescribed by written federal and state constitutions. This term can also encompass the interpretation and implementation of this law.
  • Contract –An agreement between two or more parties to either do or refrain from doing something. This term can apply to both written and oral contracts, though some states do not recognize oral contracts.
  • Demurrer –This is a formal response to a complaint filed in a lawsuit in which you plead for dismissal, even if the facts are true, because there is no legal basis for a lawsuit.
  • Depose:To testify or give a statement under oath or in a sworn affidavit.
  • Diligence:This term is defined as reasonable care or attention to a matter. An example would be checking brakes and other mechanical components on public buses regularly to ensure proper function and minimize risks. Due diligence specifically denotes what a “normal and responsible person” would do under the same conditions.
  • Felony:This is a serious crime that is punishable by death or at least one year in a state or federal prison. Examples of felonies include arson, rape, perjury, and homicide.
  • Laws:This is a system of regulations governing the conduct of a community, state, society, or nation to provide consistent order and justice for its people.
  • Malfeasance:This means doing something illegal or morally wrong.
  • Mens Rea –This is the Latin term for a “guilty mind,” and is used to describe a culpable state of mind, or the criminal intent of the individual when committing the criminal act.
  • Misdemeanor:A crime less serious than a felony, and is punishable by or imprisonment for less than a year.
  • Prima Facie – This is the Latin term for “at first look” or “on its face,” and refers to what can be presumed after the first disclosure.
  • Prima Facie Case:This is a case where, upon first look, the facts themselves prove the case.
  • Provisional Remedy –This is a temporary court order issued to protect someone from further or irreparable damage while further legal action is pending. An example would be a temporary restraining order to help keep someone safe until a hearing to decide if a permanent restraining order should be issued.
  • Punitive Damages – Damages awarded over and above compensatory damages. This particular type of award is given as punishment for the defense who committed the crime out of negligence or malice, and should serve as a deterrent to others who consider committing the same crime.
  • Stare Decisis –This is the Latin term for “to stand by things decided,” and refers to adhering to precedents of earlier cases as sources of law.
  • Statute:This is a written law passed by Congress or another legislative body.
  • Title –This term refers to the legal basis of ownership of real or personal property. It can also refer to a document that serves as evidence of ownership. Examples include deeds for real estate.
  • Title Abstract – This is the history of ownership that establishes the present state of a title and ownership.
  • Title Search – This term refers to an examination of public records to determine the state of a title, and to confirm that the seller of a property is its legal owner.
  • Tort – This term is derived from the French word for “wrong,” and is defined as a wrongful or illegal act, whether intentional or accidental, in which an injury occurs to another.
  • Wobbler: This term, sometimes referred to as a “felony wobbler,” is defined as a crime that can be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor. In some states, even if an offender is charged with a felony in a wobbler case, the judge may possess the authority to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor if he or she feels it is more applicable given the circumstances of the case.

2 Comments so far:

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  2. Jasonlep says:

    Most common in my opinion would be affidavit, allegation, and discovery. So i’d recommend knowing those well if you’re a student.

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