The legal sector is very specific in that it has its own specific jargon, which must be mastered in order to succeed in the legal profession.

In this article we will explore the differences between legal jargon and everyday language.

The specificity of legal jargon is split in two parts: terminology and documents.

Legal jargon

There are many terms that are specific to the sector of law. It is possible to divide these into two sections

  • words that are exclusively used in the legal context,
  • and words that are used in both the legal context as well as everyday language.

Exclusively legal terms

These terms require important precision, and do not have any equivalents, which helps in avoiding any ambiguity. This is the same for the majority of judicial procedural terminology. Here are some examples of specific legal terminology:

Codicil, subpoena, perjury.

Terms that are both common in the legal context as well as in everyday language

These are words that exist in both the legal and everyday context but have different meanings. These words can

Come from the legal sector

But end up making their way into everyday language use.

An example of this would be “bona fide”, which is a Latin legal expression that means in good faith/without intention to deceive, but this expression has made its way into everyday speech and the meaning also changed quite a bit leading to the term meaning “authentic, genuine, real”. An example of this is “She was a bona fide expert”.

Come from everyday language

In this case a specific legal meaning is assigned to the word. For example: degree, form, content…

The relationship between both word types

After seeing the individual word types, you should also see how they interact in the legal context.

Lexical relationships in legal jargon


Synonyms are very rare in the legal sector. One of the main characteristics of this sector is the need for precision. Therefore, it is better to avoid interchangeable terminology. However, there are a few for example, decision, decree, finding, judgement, ruling, sentence, and verdict.


These words are the exact opposites. In general, in the legal sector, a negative prefix will be added to the stem of the word to form the antonym.

For example, legal and illegal, licit and illicit, legitimate and illegitimate.

Binary oppositions

These are used to contrast between two people/entities. For example: plaintiff and defendant, sponsor and donor.

Word families

It is possible to classify words into word families when they share common traits. This can either be by etymological origins or semantic origins.

  • Etymological origins: These are words that have similar roots. For example the Latin stems ‘jus’ and ‘juris’ give us the words justice, jury, jurisdiction, just.
  • Semantic origins: Here again, the words can be classified into word families, not by their etymological stems but their semantic origins. For example, concerning the terms, it is possible to classify them with words that have similar meanings for example, licit, valid, legal, legitimate, well-found.

Common text types than contain legal jargon

Legal jargon is required in the creation of documents that define the law or explain the application of the law. Therefore, these texts are regulatory, and are drawn up in articles.

Regulatory texts

Given the important nature of these texts, the wording is crucial. The use of words that convey obligation such as “must, prohibit, obligate” are the recommended type of words to use as they express the full force of the law.

As these texts establish laws that apply to a wide ranging community, it is generally recommended to use indefinite Il est ainsi employé des mots tel que «on» ou «tout» ou encore «nul» (nul n’est censé ignorer la loi)

Documents that are drawn up in the form of legal sections

This pertains to the style of the text. Legal sections in an Act are written very specifically, short and concise. The reason that thew are written in this particular style is because they must be concise and clearly express a single idea. When a law is voted on, it is voted in section by section. Therefore legal sections should be clear and concise and contain only one idea per section, so that they do not get refused because of a supplementary section.

Legal jargon therefore has its very own specific rules and history that is unique to the sector. In order to be able to translate a legal document it is absolutely necessary to speak both the source language and the target language of the document fluently. It is just as important to understand the inner workings of legal jargon.

At ACSTraduction, we have been renowned experts in the legal sector for more than 20 years. We have translated hundreds of documents four our clients worldwide, and provide this expertise to all of our clients so that their sensitive legal documents can be translated faithfully.