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Working Hardly: Talking like a Lawyer

Little Miss Chatterbox

Contrary to popular belief, knowledge of the law is just one part of what it means to be a lawyer. The transition from normal person to lawyer also involves learning to talk the talk. Unfortunately, this has serious ramifications for our friends and loved ones as we, the law students, start incorporating legal terms into everyday conversation.

To help those struggling to get their head around their law-student friend’s new vocab, we’ve prepared this quick cheat sheet to lawyer-speak...

"Reasonable person"

Example: “A reasonable person would say…”

Translation: What I think, not what you think. They are telling you you’re wrong.

"But for"

Example: “But for the unfortunate coffee incident last week…”

Translation: It’s your fault, even if your wrongdoing has only had an indirect impact.

"The chain of causation"

Example: “If you trace the chain of causation you’ll find…”

Translation: Really, you set off the domino effect that caused this problem.

Void ab initio

Example: “The agreement we made is void ab initio…”

Translation: Invalid from the beginning. Law students will probably use this to renege on a bet or get out of buying the next round. It’s also their way of saying, “P.S. I know Latin.”

"Not insignificant"

Example: “The impact this event has had is not insignificant…”

Translation: It’s not a big deal….but it’s kind of not not a big deal, too.

"Far-fetched or fanciful"

Example: “Of all your far-fetched or fanciful suggestions…”

Translation: Completely and utterly unrealistic.


Example: “That offer was pure puffery…”

Translation: It’s hyperbole for law students, sometimes with advertising-related connotations.

"Misleading and deceptive conduct"

Example: “Your conduct was misleading and deceptive…”

Translation: You tricked me, you bastard.


Example: “Of all the unconscionable things…”

Translation: Very, very naughty. This will probably be used where the law student in your life is trying to claim the moral high ground.

Talking in Lists

We’ll finish this post with one more observation about lawyer-speak. You will soon notice law students starting to talk in the same way that they write their essays. If they have multiple points to raise, don’t be surprised to hear them structure everyday conversation with ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’, ‘finally’, etc.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 3 September 2011.

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