Legal Terms – A glossary guide to law and legal terminology


In general, a legal term is a word or phrase that denotes something in law. The use of legal terms is different in every country, but the goal of each jurisdiction is generally the same: to establish order by regulating society’s interactions. Legal terms are often specific to the type of law they refer to (e.g., commercial code) or part of an established language (e.g., “duress”). Some words may be considered legally equivalent within one jurisdiction but not another, which would make them subjectively distinct for those jurisdictions or even across different parts of one society or world region (e.g., “homicide” vs “manslaughter”).

In some jurisdictions, legal terms are based on Latin terms which were in use at the time Common Law of England was active. In others, legal terms may be based on French or Spanish vernacular and yet others on Modern English. The words and their definitions given below by  are typically based on U.S. law, unless specified otherwise. Legal terms may vary from one jurisdiction to another and even sometimes within a jurisdiction.

Glossary of the Most Common Legal Terms - Stewart Law Offices


A reduction of damages for a breach of contract as a result of the aggrieved party’s own default or fault (contrast with mitigation). In the United States, a party to a contract may abate damages by reparation of the default or fault. The rescinding of a contract, which is synonymous with abatement, is usually prohibited.


An adjustment in a contract to satisfy the other party’s reasonable needs or requirements. In American law, accommodations are generally permitted unless they convert one party’s advantage into another’s disadvantage without mutual consent. The same rule applies when an exchange is made in consideration for a change in obligations to be provided by one party. In certain situations that do not involve consideration for any specific benefits conferred by one party upon the other, accommodations are forbidden unless otherwise stipulated by express agreement.


Contrary to what one might expect, an accepted offer is not one which the offeree has assented to; it is one which the offeree has either expressly or impliedly authorised. In contrast, an acceptance may have been withdrawn by the offeree. In American law, acceptance may be expressed or implied from acts of the offeree.


A judicial decision pursuant to a court order in a civil case, for example a decree of divorce. An adjudication or determination of a legal question that follows litigation in some jurisdictions is called a judgment, while in others it is known as a declaration of fact or findings of fact and law. In both cases, a judicial declaration is a court order in a civil case.


A written statement made under oath with no promise of prosecution if the statement is false or given by a party or witness under some other privilege (such as clergy). An affidavit must be witnessed by an individual who declares that he or she knows the affiant and has no interest in the litigation. The signature of the witness must also be sworn to before an appropriate official after all parties involved have agreed to its content. Affidavits are typically used to prove evidence in court, but they are not used in all jurisdictions. Some U.S. states require that all affidavits (either factual or legal) be in writing.


An agreement is a voluntarily express agreement between the parties to the agreement, whether or not it is legally enforceable in a court of law. In American law, agreements may be written down and separately enforceable. A group of persons may enter into an agreement (for example, a partnership). If one party commits a breach of the contract and the other party does not cure the breach within a reasonable amount of time, then he or she may seek redress in court. The court may order the breaching party to perform the agreement and award damages.


Formerly known as “maintenance,” alimony is a form of payment that one spouse makes to another spouse in some countries for maintenance and/or support during and/or after a divorce. In American law, alimony is also called spousal support, maintenance or simply support. Alimony is typically payable upon the death or remarriage of either party. Alimony may be awarded instead of property distribution, on the theory of the marital partnership of gains and earning power.

Amicus curiae 

Latin: “friend of the court. Also called “friend of the judge.” The term amicus curiae is used to refer to a person who is not part of the parties’ case, but who has an interest in the outcome of the case. He or she has no legal standing to speak or act on behalf of either party. Typically, an amicus will be an attorney who wishes to present his or her argument in court, but may also be a person with expertise in the subject matter.


An agreement between two parties to enter into a contract that occurs prior to both parties having assumed all obligations under that contract. In American law, contractual terms are considered enforceable only if they are established at the time each party undertakes duties under it.


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