Lawyers, Legalese and Latin: Why Lawyers Are Such Language Junkies

Hi there,

I think of myself as a down-to-earth person,  but I unthinkingly use language that is the opposite. I blame this on my law school education, although I think lawyers self-select with a love of language and words.

Last week’s post was titled “Domestic Violence Redux.”  It wasn’t until I was asked for the meaning of “redux” that I realized how arcane the normal language of the law can be. So with no further ado a dictionary, of sorts, of the more commonly used legalese you may hear your attorney using in your divorce or other matters.

  • Redux = revisited
  • Pro se = a litigant is by himself, no counsel
  • Guardian ad litem = a guardian for the purposes of the litigation, commonly referred to as a GAL
  • Propounded, as in “we propounded interrogatories” = “we asked”
  • Interrogatories = written questions to be answered under oath in a set time frame
  • Pro bono = literally means “for good.” Lawyers do a lot of pro bono work for free or reduced fees generally representing folks who can’t afford lawyers, and also when writing briefs for causes the lawyers believe are good
  • Res judicata = already decided in this case, so can’t be litigated again
  • Stare decisis = settled law, which of course is never really settled as law is always changing
  • Mens rea = criminal intent, not usually an issue in family law
  • Res ipsa loquitor = the thing speaks for itself, generally used in personal injury

Many of these terms came from Roman Law through British Common Law to our present day law. I hope they’re helpful!