Learn to distinguish between legal jargon which actually means something and meaningless business guff.


ABS – alternative business structures: newly permitted arrangements for law firms, which allow non-lawyers to have a financial stake in the business.

Adjudication – the legal process by which an arbiter or judge reviews evidence to come to a decision.

Agency work – making a court appearance for another firm that can’t get to court.

AIM – a ‘junior’ stock market run by the London Stock Exchange, which allows smaller companies to float stock within a more flexible system.

Ambulance chasing – a derogatory term for personal injury and other lawyers who chase potential claimants; SRA rules prohibit this kind of activity. 

Antitrust – the US term for competition law.

Arbitration – a type of dispute resolution where the parties agree to abide by the decision of one or more arbitrators.

Associate – solicitors not at partner level but more senior than an assistant solicitor.

Bench – the judge or judges in a courtroom.

Best friends relationship – a situation where two firms have no organisational or financial ties, but use each other as the first port of call when referring work.

Bibling – putting together sets of all the relevant documents for a transaction.

Billing target/chargeable hours target – the number of hours lawyers are required to record working for a client; time is usually recorded in six-minute chunks; trainees do not usually have billing targets.

Boutique – a firm (usually a small firm but there can be exceptions) which works only on one area of law.

Brief – the instructing documents given to a barrister when they are instructed by a solicitor.

Bundling – compiling bundles of documents for a court case.

The City – the commercial and financial centre of London; also known as the Square Mile.

CMC – case management conference.

Coco – company-commercial department/work.

Conditional fee arrangements – also called ‘no win no fee’; an arrangement whereby a solicitor acting in a claim agrees only to be paid a fee if he wins the case; such payment is usually made by the losing party.

Contentious matters – legal disputes between parties.

Conveyancing – the transfer of the ownership of property from one person to another.

Counsel – a barrister.

CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility: the practice of companies taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on society; in reality ‘CSR committees’ at firms will run projects where lawyers paint schools, plant trees and clean playgrounds.

Damages – a sum of money which one person or organisation has to pay to another for not performing a certain duty.

Data room duty – used to involve supervising visitors to rooms full of important documents, helping them find things and making sure they don’t steal them. With electronic data rooms the job becomes more of a desktop exercise.

Disclosure – making relevant documentation available to the other parties in a dispute.

Dispute resolution – litigation, mediation, arbitration, etc.

Document management – dealing with the more administrative side of deal documentation.

Due diligence – the thorough investigation of a target company in a deal.

Equity partner – a partner who receives a contractually agreed share of the firm’s annual profits. A part owner of the firm. The other type of partner is a salaried partner.

Fee earner – a lawyer or a paralegal who bills time to a firm’s clients. The term doesn't include lawyers who act in a more supportive role.

FTSE 100 (pronounced ‘footsie’) – an index of the 100 most valuable companies listed on the London Stock Exchange; the value of these companies is used to give an indication of the health of the UK’s business world.

Grunt work – administrative (and boring) yet essential tasks including photocopying, bundling, bibling, paginating, scheduling documents, data room duties and proof-reading or checking that documents are intact.

High net worth individuals – rich people; commonly used when referring to private client work.

Highly leveraged – the practice of having a ratio of few partners to lots of solicitors; leverage is also a term used in finance – the two are not connected.

Infant approval – court authorisation for a settlement involving a minor.

In-house lawyer – a solicitor or barrister who is employed by a company or public body rather than a law firm or barristers’ chambers.

Injunction – a court order requiring a party to do, or to refrain from doing, certain acts.

IPO – the Initial Public Offering of shares in a company to the public on a stock market; also known as flotation.

Judicial review – the legal process by which the actions of the government or public bodies can be challenged.

Junior Lawyers’ Division – a sub-group within the Law Society set up in 2008 to represent student members of the Law Society, trainees and lawyers up to five years’ PQE.

Law Society – the official representative body of solicitors in England and Wales.

Legal Aid – a government-funded system which pays for legal representation in criminal and some civil cases for individuals who would otherwise be unable to afford it.

Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act – the 2012 Act of Parliament which brought in the most recent round of (ongoing) reforms and cuts to Legal Aid. Known as LASPO for short.

Legal Services Act – the 2007 Act of Parliament encourages the development of one-stop shops that deliver packages of legal services at the convenience of consumers and provides an alternative path for consumer complaints.

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) – a way of structuring a professional partnership such that no partner is liable to any of the firm’s creditors above and beyond a certain sum.

Litigation – a method of settling disputes through legal proceedings in court.

Lockstep – the practice of increasing solicitor’s salaries based purely on seniority.

M&A – mergers and acquisitions; the buying, selling and combining of companies; often the main focus of firms’ corporate teams.

Magic circle – the name given to five of the leading London-based law firms; it is generally held to consist of Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May.

Managing partner – the main boss of a law firm, who leads the partnership and/or management committee in running the business and devising its strategy.

Master (in the High Court) – a judge in the High Court ranking lower than a High Court judge, chiefly responsible for case management. They are called ‘Master’ regardless of whether they are male or female.

Mediation – a type of dispute resolution where a dispute is resolved with the help of a neutral third party.

Moot – a mock trial used to train or test advocacy skills.

Nearshoring – the outsourcing of work to another organisation, usually in a part of the UK where overheads and salary costs are lower.

Niche practice area – a practice that is specialised and not in a mainstream area.

Notary public – a qualified lawyer appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is authorised to authenticate and certify estates, deeds, powers-of-attorney and other documents, especially for use abroad; the majorities of notaries are also solicitors.

NQ – a newly qualified solicitor.

(Offshore) outsourcing – hiring in an external organisation (overseas) to perform a part of a company’s activities.

Overseas seat – same concept as a seat (see further down the list), except that it's undertaken in an international office.

Panel – a group of law firms or lawyers chosen for regular consultation by a certain business.

Paralegal – a non-lawyer, often with some legal training, who assists qualified lawyers on legal matters.

PFI – Private Finance Initiative; a way of creating 'public-private partnerships' (PPPs) by funding public infrastructure projects with private capital.

PLC – punlic limited company; a company listed on a stock exchange. Big firms' clients may be public companies, and one law firm on this website (Gateley) has now listed publicly too. 

Power of Attorney – the legal authority to act on someone else’s behalf.

PQE – post-qualification experience.

Pro bono – from the Latin ‘pro bono publico’, meaning ‘for the public good’; legal work done without payment as a public service.

Profits per equity partner (PEP) – the annual profits of a law firm divided by the total number of equity partners in the firm; this statistic is often used to indicate the financial health of a firm, but it can easily be manipulated by altering the number of equity partners.

PSC – Professional Skills Course; a compulsory course taken during the training contract.

Public procurement law – regulates the purchasing by public sector bodies of contracts for products, works or services.

Restructuring exercise (in the context of a law firm) – the reorganisation of a business, usually to make it more efficient or more attractive to clients; often a euphemistic way of talking about staff/lawyer redundancies.

Rights of audience – the right of a lawyer (either a solicitor or barrister) to appear and conduct proceedings in court.

Rotation (when referring to seats) – when a trainee moves from one seat onto the next.

Salaried partner – a partner who receives a salary but has no contractual claim on the firm’s profits; the other type of partner is an equity partner.

Seat – time spent by a trainee working in a department, usually four or six months.

Secondment – the practice of ‘lending’ trainees and qualified solicitors to a firm’s client to work in their in-house legal department for a certain period.

Silo-ing – encouraging people to work in a specific field rather than being generalists; teams working very independently of others within a firm.

Silver circle – a group of elite English law firms, generally considered to fall just outside the magic circle. This tends to include Ashurst, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Herbert Smith FreehillsMacfarlanes and Travers Smith. Some of these firms have expressed their reservations to us about being labelled as members of the 'silver circle', so be careful how you use the term.

SQE – the Solicitors Qualifying Examination; a new two-part 'superexam' being introduced in 2020 for all those qualifying solicitors. 

SRA – Solicitors Regulation Authority; the body that regulates the professional conduct of solicitors in England and Wales.

Superinjunction – the informal term for an injunction whose existence and details may not be publicly disclosed.

Swiss Verein – a business structure consisting of a number of independent offices, each of which is independently liable for its own obligations.

Tesco law – a nickname for the effect of the Legal Services Act.

TMT – technology, media and telecommunications; an increasingly common area of practice.

Tort – a breach of duty owed to someone else (a ‘civil wrong’) which leads to injury to a person or their property.

Training contract – a two-year period of working in legal practice in which someone who has completed their Legal Practice Course is trained by an accredited organisation to become a qualified solicitor.

Training partner – the partner who oversees the training scheme.

Tribunal – specialist judicial bodies that decide disputes in a particular area of law.

Vacation scheme – a placement with a law firm designed to familiarise a prospective trainee with a firm and vice versa; sometimes called ‘vac schemes’ or ‘summer placements’, they are usually held during the summer or at Easter and can last anywhere between one and four weeks. The vast majority of firms offer this.

Verification – the aspect of a deal in which lawyers ensure stated information is accurate.