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Lawyer Up! 10 Legal Phrases With Meanings & Examples

The language used in law is evolving. Many lawyers and other people involved in the justice system have started to use more simple English than before. However, there are still legal phrases that can sound confusing for laypeople. In this article, you will learn 10 law-related expressions with definitions and examples that you will hear in the US.

#1 To lawyer up

  • Meaning: To hire a lawyers
  • Example: He's lawyered up and plans to sue the company.

#2 Against the law

  • Meaning: Illegal or forbidden by law
  • Example: It is against the law to provide inaccurate information when applying for food stamps.

#3 To bend the law

  • Meaning: To do something that does not technically break the law but could be considered inappropriate or unfair
  • Example: We won't do anything illegal; we'll just bend the law a little.

#4 The jury is (still) out [on something]

  • Meaning: (Something) hasn't been decided yet or it hasn't yet become clear
  • Example: Tom asked if we are proceeding with the ad campaign, but the jury is out on that. 

#5 Open and shut case

  • Meaning: A legal case or an argument that is clear-cut; a simple and straightforward situation that admits no doubt or dispute
  •  Example: With all the evidence against the defendant, I expect this to be an open-and-shut case.

#6 A slap on the wrist

  • Meaning: A mild punishment or warning
  • Example: Even though everyone knows they broke so many regulations, they only received a slap on the wrist.

#7 The spirit of the law

  • Meaning: The initial purpose or aim of a law when it was written; the intended meaning of a law (as opposed to its literal interpretation)
  • Example: Although the CEO of that company is technically acting legally, she is violating the spirit of the law. Her main goal is to increase her own profits at the expense of their employees.

#8 The letter of the law

  • Meaning: Exactly what the law says. When you follow "the letter of the law", you follow the rules perfectly, without leaving any room for interpretation. If you follow "the spirit of the law", you take the law interpreting it for practical purposes.
  • Example: The letter of the law says that he has to pay back the damages, but that judge is likely going to follow the spirit of the law and let it slide.

#9 Vested interest

  • Meaning: (1) An interest recognized as belonging to a particular person (usually in land or money held in trust). (2) A permanent right given to an employee under a pension plan. (3) A special interest in an existing system, arrangement, or institution for particular personal reasons.
  • Example: An independent lab should have no vested interest in the outcome of tests.

#10 Above the law

  • Meaning: In a position where one can avoid being bound by the laws that govern ordinary people. It describes a person who is exempt from following the rules—or at least thinks he or she is exempt.
  • Example: He’s not even trying to hide the fact that he’s stealing. He acts like he’s above the law.

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