Most Common Legal Terms Everyone Must Know

Words are important tools of the law. Lawyers must use the right words to prompt their client’s wishes. Fully understanding these legal terminologies is crucial for understanding the law itself and accurately applying it in research, legal analysis, document preparation and compliance with local, state and federal judicial systems.

Here are some common legal terms that everyone should know:

Common Legal Terms to Know

Adjective Law

Also known as procedural law, refers to that portion of the law that deals with the rules of procedure governing evidence, practice and pleading. It is an area of law that concerns government agencies.

Cause Of Action

It basically refers to the reason why a plaintiff filed suit or complaint against somebody. Some examples are a breach of contract, negligence, malpractice defamation, fraud, Torts (battery, assault, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, invasion of privacy, slander) and suits in equity (quantum meruit, unjust enrichment).

Constitutional Law

This pertains to the law which is prescribed by the written state and federal constitutions, as well as the interpretation and implementation of this law.

Compensatory Damages

These refer to the damages that are recovered for economic loss or injury. A good example is this, if someone is physically hurt in a vehicular accident, the party who injures them has to pay compensatory damages. They must cover the cost of things such as medical treatments, medical and hospital bills, medical equipment physical therapy, ambulance fees, domestic services, lost wages or unemployment income, added living expenses, property repairs, and transportation.


It is basically an agreement between two or more parties creating a legal obligation to do or refrain from doing something. This normally involves a promise of something in exchange for something of value. Contracts can be in written and oral forms


A felony is a serious crime punishable by death or at least one year in a state or federal prison. Examples are Murder, Manslaughter (unintentional killing of another), Aggravated assault or battery, rape, vehicular homicide, Animal cruelty, Arson, Larceny, Burglary, Various forms of fraud and Tax evasion.


Minor wrongdoing and less serious crime than a felony which is normally punishable by or imprisonment for less than a year. Some common examples of a misdemeanor are petty theft, public intoxication, prostitution, disorderly conduct, simple assault, vandalism, reckless driving, trespass, discharging a firearm within city limits and possession of cannabis.


Involves doing something illegal or morally wrong. It is commonly used about actions by public officials and employees who have failed to perform their duties. A politician embezzling money is a good example of this.

Punitive Damages

These types of damages are awarded over and above compensatory damages as an act of punishment if the act causing the injury was proven to be committed out of malice or negligence. This also serves as an example to others. For example, a person who loses an arm when hit by a drunk driver is given a monetary award to help him/her face the resultant obstacles.

Provisional Remedy

This is a temporary court order to protect someone from further or damages while awaiting further legal action. For example, a temporary restraining order serves as a provisional remedy to keep a person safe until the court decides if a permanent restraining order is necessary for the situation.