Legal Terminology BRW108

Study, Learn and Understand the Language of Lawyers, Politicians, Police and Judges

A Foundation Course for anyone wanting to work with or study Law.

This course is valuable for anyone who needs to understand and communicate better with legal language, from people who write about business and politics, to Paralegals, Legal Assistants, Solicitors, Law Professors, Legal Receptionists/Secretaries, Private Investigators, Authorised Government Inspectors and Officers, Law Enforcement Officers and many others.


Course Structure

There are 8 lessons in this module as follows:

Lesson 1. Scope and Nature of Legal Terminology

Codification, Origin of legal words, Development of Legal Language, The Role of Latin in the Development of Legal Language and Law, Common legal language, Sources of law, Broad Categories of Law, Substantive Vs Procedural Law, Private vs. Public Law, Civil vs. Common Law, Types of Law, Administrative Law, Adversarial (Accusatorial Law), Civil Law, Constitutional Law, Continental Law, Contract Law, Common Law (English Law), Criminal or Penal Law, Intellectual Property Law, International Law, Inquisitorial Law, Islamic Law, Property Law, Public Law, Roman Law, Socialist Law, Statute Law, Tort Law, Trust Law; Separation of Powers (Judicial, Legislative, Executive); Essential Features of the Westminster System, Common legal terms.


Lesson 2. The Legal Workplace

People & Processes; Types of Lawyers: Attorney (or Advocate), Barrister Vs Solicitor, Criminal Defence Lawyers, Corporate Lawyers, Bankruptcy Lawyers, Civil Lawyers, Other specialisations, Court Solicitors, Barristers, Court Agents, Paralegal Professionals, Law courts, Role of courts, Jurisdiction, Judicial Immunity, General jurisdiction, Limited (bounded or special) jurisdiction:, Criminal jurisdiction:, Monetary jurisdiction, Original jurisdiction:, Intermediate Jurisdiction, Appellate jurisdiction:, Ancillary jurisdiction:, Concurrent jurisdiction, Exclusive jurisdiction, Pendent jurisdiction, Subject matter jurisdiction, Levels of Courts, Appellate Court, Civil Court, Constitutional Court, Article Courts, Circuit Courts, County Court, Court of Assize, Court of Equity, Court of Record, District Court, Family Court, Federal Court, Full Court: (or full bench), Privy Council, International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court, Juvenile Court, Magistrate’s Court, Open Court, Probate Court, Small Claims Court, Superior Court, Supreme Court, English Court Structure, Dispute Resolution

Lesson 3. Legal systems

Australian, UK, International Law etc. Common law legal systems, Civil law, Codification of law, Separation of powers, Australian law system, International law, etc.

Lesson 4. Contract & Business Law

Nature of Contract, Unilateral contracts, Bilateral contracts, Classes of contract, Formal Contracts, Simple contracts, Validity and enforceability, Agreement, Rules as to offer, Rules as to acceptance of an offer, Revocation of an offer, Rules as to rejection of an offer, Rules as to lapse of an offer, Intention to Create Legal Relations, Consideration, Rules relating to consideration, Lawful Object, Capacity to Contract, Discharge and Conclusion of Contract, Formation of Simple Contract

Lesson 5. Property Law

Real Property, Personal Property, Conveyancing, England and Wales, Scotland, USA, Australia, Intellectual Property, Patent, Trademarks, Copyright, Design patent, Confidential information (trade secrets), Related terminology

Lesson 6. Wills, Probate, Estate Law

Estate, Wills, Heirs, Inheritance, Beneficiaries, Probate, Will Requirements (Testamentary intent, Testamentary capacity, Lack of duress, Absence of undue influence, Witnesses), Trusts, Related terminology

Lesson 7. Criminal Law

Social construction, History of punishment, Reasons for Punishment (Rehabilitation, Deterrence/Prevention, Protection of Society/Incapacitation, Restoration, Retribution, Education), USA - Criminal Law or Penal Law, Australian Criminal Law, Canadian Criminal Law, Tort Law, Classification of Torts (Intentional Tort, Unintentional Tort) Purpose of Tort Law (Compensation for Damages, Financial Responsibility, Deterrence, Avoiding “self-help”), Negligence, Statutory Torts, Nuisance, Defamation, Intentional Torts, Economic Torts; Duty of Care, Breach of Confidence, Causation, Related terms

Lesson 8. Other Categories

Family Law (Decree nisi, De facto marriage, Equitable adoption, Adoption by estoppels, Interlocutory decree, Judgement nisi, etc), Civil Actions, Bankruptcy, Insurance Law, Accidents Compensation and related terminology.


  • Explain the scope and nature of terminology used in law and allied professions.
  • Identify and describe legal occupations and roles
  • Compare and contrast different Legal Systems worldwide and discuss the role of International Law
  • Explain the meaning of Business Law and describe the processes involved in the formation of simple contracts
  • Explain the meaning of property law and its processes.
  • Research and explain common terms and processes related to wills, probate, estate law and Trusts.
  • Investigate and describe the meaning of terms and processes associated with Criminal Law and Torts (Civil Law)
  • Describe and investigate legal terminology associated with the areas of Family Law, Bankruptcy, Insurance, and Accident Compensation


An Introduction to Legal Language

Codification is the process of collecting and restating the law, usually by forming a legal code. So this is a systematic arrangement, where laws of a state or country, statutory provisions, rules and regulations that govern certain areas or practice of law are collected. Codification relates to the creation of codes – the compilation of rules, statutes and regulations that tell the public was is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of behaviour.

An example –

In the United States, Acts of Congress are published in the chronological order that they become law. They are then grouped together in an official bound book chronologically and called session laws. Any act passed is therefore in this book. This includes public and private law. Each congressional act may contain laws on a variety of topics, so the acts are also rearranged and published due to subject matter – that is – codification. The official codification of Federal statutes is called the United States Code. Usually only public laws are codified. For example, tax evasion is a felony that relates to criminal and tax law.

Therefore, US law relies on previous cases or precedents to determine procedures and to help decide the outcome of cases. Codification then rearranges and displaces previous statutes or case decisions – so when making a decision, a judge will look at previous cases. He/she will then make their decision on a case. This will be the latest decision, so chronologically will displace the previous decisions. If his/her decision is not agreed with, there will be further legal processes, a new decision will be made and this will replace the previous one and so on.

So states codify their criminal laws so that the statutes generally contain the new code.

Why do we need to do this? In 25 B.C., in Ancient Sumer, the King of Islin developed the first written code. These codes were used to establish justice. Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations continued to use codification. We will consider this further in later lessons. We will cover more on codification in later lessons.

This course is aimed to develop your awareness of terms not only used by Lawyers, but also by other allied professionals, in the legal process and profession.

Origin of Legal Words

The language of law differs from most other role-specific languages in that legal language is culture-bound and intertwined with each particular society and its legal system.

Legal language is not a universal language such as is the case of the language of natural science, which is an almost universal language utilised by scientists worldwide.

Legal language is developed in laws or sentences, in administrative acts or in private negotiations, and it is always based in the dialectical relationship between being and having to be, between legal prescription and concrete case.

While retaining its fundamental characteristics it has diversity of styles and of environments.


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Understanding The Components of Language

An extract from an ebook by the tutors -see

Language is made up of different types of words, including nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections.

  • Nouns are words that represent things (e.g. something you can see, touch, a place, a person, etc)
  • Pronouns are words that can substitute for nouns (e.g. she, he or it)
  • Verbs are "doing words" - or words that indicate something happening (e.g. run, go, appear, build)
  • Adjectives are descriptive words - words that say something about a noun or pronoun ( i.e. quick, brown, sneaky, sweaty)
  • Adverbs are words that say something about a verb such as indicating how, when where etc. (they add to the verb - quickly, patiently...)
  • Prepositions connect words in a way that shows a relationship between different words in a sentence (e.g. come home after you finish –“after” relates to both come and home)
  • Conjunctions links different words or phrases in a sentence (e.g. and)
  • Interjections are words that express a feeling, interjecting or emphasising something on top of or to the side of the essence of the sentence (e.g. wow, hooray, oh, ouch, etc)

Where do words come from?

There are two types of words:

1. Eponyms
Words that are created by naming something after a person or after something else e.g. a place or thing named after the person who discovered it such as Alzheimer's disease - named after Alois Alzheimer who is credited with identifying the first published case of presenile dementia.
Other examples include –
Achilles’ heel – after Achilles
Adam’s apple – after the biblical Adam
Asperger Syndrome – Hans Asperger
Halley’s Comet – Edmond Halley

2. Systematically Constructed Words
Words that have evolved from other languages. These are most commonly created systematically using other words, or parts of (or derivations from) other words, typically Ancient Greek or Latin words. An example of this is the word “dichotomy” from the Greek dichotomia.

Structure of words
There are three parts to most words:

1. The Word Root
This is usually the middle of the word and provides its core meaning.

2. The Prefix
This is normally at the start and commonly identifies a part of the core meaning.

3. The Suffix
This comes at the end and modifies the core meaning (e.g. what it is interacting with or what is happening to it). A suffix is sometimes called a postfix or ending as it comes at the end of the word.

Prefixes can be attached to nouns and adjectives. When a prefix that ends in a consonant is placed before a word that begins with a consonant, the ending of the prefix may be changed to that of the word itself. This is known as assimilation and can be seen in the word itself. Ad- before “similis” becomes assimilis rather than adsimilis.



Some students study out of pure interest, but for most, this course will be taken to enhance their work prospects, or improve work skills, for any position where a knowledhe of the law, and legal language is important.



Legal receptionists or clerks, work at the front desk of a law firm or office. They are the first port of call for client and visitors coming to or contacting the law firm. Because of this, it is important the legal receptionist projects a good representation of the law firm – being well presented, professional and articulate.

Different sizes and types of law firms will have different requirements of the legal receptionist. In smaller firms the legal receptionist may double as the legal secretary.

Some duties include:

  • Meeting and greeting clients and visitors that come in to the law firm.
  • Answering phone calls and taking messages or forwarding on to other staff members.
  • Screening incoming calls to determine whether the caller needs to speak to an attorney. Forwarding to an appropriate attorney.
  • Administrative tasks
  • May be required to draft correspondence, such as letters to attorneys, courts or clients.
  • Scheduling appointments.
  • Creating files for clients.
  • May be required to handle billing.
  • Providing general information to the public.
  • Serving coffee or tea to visitors and clients.
  • Office tasks such as managing office supplies, scanning, photocopying, faxing and filing.

Legal receptionists are employed by law firms, government offices, legal departments and courthouses. They will generally work during business hours, and not be required to work overtime, evenings, or weekends. Legal receptionist work is relatively stable, and employment opportunities for receptionists in general are set to stay constant, or increase.

Legal receptionists tend to earn more than general receptionists as they do specialised work, however their salary level will largely depend on the size of the firm, the firms location, the receptionists level of experience, among other things. Generally speaking a legal receptionist will earn a low to middle level income (which can be a higher income depending on the previously mentioned factors), with the added bonus of a relatively stable employment.

Working as a legal receptionist can be a foot in the door to working as a supervisor, legal secretary, or paralegal. Because the legal receptionist communicates with everyone in the law firm, as well as everyone who deals with the law firm they will have opportunities for networking.

Risks and challenges
Working as a legal receptionist can be stressful at times. Working at a busy law firm with strict deadlines can create stress. The legal receptionist will also be required to deal with people who are experiencing stressful circumstances which can be challenging.
A legal receptionist will spend the majority of the day sitting down at a computer, so may experience issues associated with that, such as headaches, lethargy, eyestrain, and repetitive strain injury.

How to become a Legal Receptionist
Whilst there is not a specification education requirement to be a legal receptionist, it is generally preferred that the candidate has completed a high school qualification, as well as preferably some formal secretarial or office training. Law firms will also often look for someone who has had experience working in a law office, or in a similar type of role.

To become a legal receptionist, then, it is important to try to gain work experience within a law firm in some capacity, even if it is unpaid work initially.

Maybe of greater importance are the types of skills you will need to work successfully as a legal receptionist. These include:

  • Knowledge of office practices
  • Familiarity with the legal system and legal terminology
  • Computer skills
  • Communication skills – both verbal and written expression and comprehension
  • Excellent interpersonal and customer service skills
  • A polished appearance
  • Attention to detail
  • Respectful of confidential information

Other related jobs

  • Legal secretary
  • Paralegal
  • Medical receptionist
  • Administrator
  • Book keeper

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Fee Information (S3)
Prices in Australian Dollars

PlanAust. PriceOverseas Price
A 1 x $748.00  1 x $680.00
B 2 x $407.00  2 x $370.00

Note: Australian prices include GST. 
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