Legalese: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Jessica Mercado

I completed my BA in Criminal Justice in 2015. Currently working on my MS in Homeland Security Management.

In this lesson, we will learn the meaning of legalese. We'll examine different legalese terms and phrases as well as What they look like in the context of a legal document.

Wait, What Did You Just Say?

Sometimes, certain professions utilize a type of language that is specific to an industry, a kind of jargon not everyone will understand. The legal profession is no different.

Let's say you are signing a contract to become a pro basketball player. The contract has a lot of confusing terms you are unsure of. Before you decide to sign, you hire a lawyer to go over the contract with you. He tells you that a contract's legalese will sometimes be too difficult for the typical person to understand. That's why it is important to have a lawyer look over the contract first.

What is Legalese?

Legalese consists of specialized terms or phrases used in the legal profession. This type of specialized language can carry over into legal contracts, such as the basketball contract you were about to sign. Legalese provides extensive explanation of what's expected from the party offering the contract and the party signing it. Since this type of language does not provide simple explanation, individuals who are not in the legal profession may find it difficult to understand. Hiring a legal professional, like you did with your basketball contract, can help shed light on the more technical terms.

What is the Point?

Words and phrases can hold different meanings for different people. Someone who lives in town might say, ''I'm going to town.'' Everyone who lives in the area knows that you mean going to the grocery store a mile away. An outsider, however, might be confused by this reference. In the legal profession, this type of misinterpretation can have negative consequences.

Legalese in legal documents eliminates the possibility for misinterpretation of words or phrases. In normal speech, an objective may be covered in one sentence to provide simplified understanding. In the legal profession, that same objective could be described in several paragraphs because it could hold different meanings for different people, leading to unintended consequences.

Let's think back to your basketball contract. Why does it have legalese in it? The basketball contract is a binding agreement between you and the team. Because you are expected to act a certain way and are held to certain standards, your understanding of expectations may be different than the team's. In order to make sure everyone is on the same page, the contract describes each objective in full detail to avoid loopholes and misunderstandings.

Examples of Legalese in Contracts

One example of legalese is the terms and conditions of a contract. In a cell phone contract, some terms and conditions could be: the amount that is due each month, the customer's obligation to pay off the phone, military exemptions or payment plans. This can all become very confusing, especially if the individual does not understand their obligations upon purchasing the phone.

An individual might wish to unlock their phone but can't because they haven't paid off their bill. It's covered in the terms and conditions, but the customer may have only skimmed through those terms and conditions, thinking they're too complicated or don't apply. In this case, the legalese protects the company, but if the legalese is not explained or the customer does not fully read the contract, the customer may feel like they were mistreated.

Legalese Terms and Phrases

Here are some common examples of legalese. Accompanying each is a brief definition or explanation:

  • Breach of Contract- Failure of one party to uphold their side of a contract.
  • Conditions- The principal terms of a contract. Breach of contract results if a condition is not met.
  • Exclusion Clause- Exclusion of one party from liability for certain aspects of the agreement.
  • Express Terms- The explicitly stated terms of a contract.
  • Liability- Legal obligation to the contract.
  • Offer- An agreement made to develop a contract.
  • Proxy- A person who acts on behalf of another for a specific purpose.
  • Repudiation- Refusal to comply to the agreement or contract.
  • Trademark- A legally registered name or symbol representing a product or company.
  • Void- A contract that cannot be completed.
  • Warranties- Promises made in the contract.
  • Insolvency- Where one party cannot pay what is owed.
  • Indemnity- Promise by a third party to pay the amount owed.
  • Guarantee- One person promises to pay the debt for someone who is not able to.

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