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Legal and Law Idioms


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Legal and Law Idioms


after the fact

- after something (a crime etc.) has occurred

We were told, after the fact, that the company would not give any money to the fire victims.

an act of God

- an event or accident due to natural causes for which no human is responsible and which could not have been avoided by planning ahead (a storm, an earthquake, a volcano etc.)

The insurance company refused to pay the money because they said that the forest fire was an act of God.

assemble a case (against someone)

- to gather the evidence needed to make a legal case against someone

The lawyers were unable to assemble a case against the man.

assume liability

- to accept the responsibility for paying the cost of something

The business refused to assume liability for the dangerous products.

at arms length

- at a distance, avoiding intimacy or familiarity

We purchased the property at arm's length and we are not involved in any management decisions.

bail (someone) out or bail out (someone)

- to pay a sum of money that allows someone to get out of jail or stay out of jail while waiting for a trial

The family of the accused criminal paid much money to bail him out.

beyond a reasonable doubt

- a legal phrase meaning that something is almost certain and that the proposition being presented in court must be proven enough that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person that the defendant is guilty of a crime

The judge sent the man to jail because he believed, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the man had committed the crime.

bona fide

- in good faith, without any element of dishonesty or fraud (bona fide is from Latin)

The mediator asked the two sides in the dispute to make a bona fide effort to solve the dispute.

a breach of promise

- the breaking of a promise which may also be a breach of contract

The couple was accused of a breach of promise when they broke the contract to buy the condominium.

a breach of the peace

- causing a disturbance, violent or disorderly behavior

The man was charged with a breach of the peace when he began fighting with the store clerk.

break the law

- to fail to obey the law

The woman was forced to quit her job after it was discovered that she had broken the law.

build a case (against someone)

- to gather the evidence needed to make a legal case against someone

The legal team was working hard to build a case against the suspected car thief.

burden of proof

- the necessity to prove a disputed fact as required by the laws of evidence

The burden of proof during the trial fell on the man who had accused his employee of theft.

by the book

- following all the rules when you do something

Our lawyer is very good and he does everything by the book.

case of mistaken identity

- a case where you incorrectly identify someone

The young man was arrested in a case of mistaken identity.

causing a disturbance

- an offence committed by fighting/screaming/shouting/swearing or being drunk in public

Several fans were arrested for causing a disturbance after the football game.

caveat emptor

- "let the buyer beware" (from Latin), a buyer of something is responsible to examine the goods that he or she has purchased

Caveat emptor is a good concept to remember when you are buying a used car.

cease and desist

- a legal phrase which means to stop doing something and not start again - often used in the form of a cease and desist order

The woman's husband was given a cease and desist order to stop bothering her.

circumstantial evidence

- indirect evidence

The court case was difficult to win because most of the evidence was circumstantial evidence.

citizen's arrest

- an arrest which may be made by an ordinary citizen without a warrant when somebody commits a crime

The man tried to make a citizen's arrest of the violent homeless man.

civil action

- legal action that deals with private or civil matters

The couple decided to take civil action regarding their neighbor's noisy dog.

civil law

- the area of the law which deals with civil or private matters such as violations of contracts (different from criminal law)

The lawyer had much experience in civil law but almost no experience in criminal law.

class action lawsuit

- a lawsuit that is made on behalf of a group of persons in a similar situation or who have suffered a similar wrong

The workers filed a class action lawsuit against the company for damage to their health.

come by (something) honestly

- to get something honestly

The man had much money and he came by this money honestly.

come clean (with someone about something)

- to be completely honest with someone about something, to confess something to someone

The man decided to come clean with the police when he confessed everything about the crime.

commercial law

- the area of law that governs business and commercial transactions

The lawyer has specialized in commercial law since he first became a lawyer.

common law

- the law that is not written in statutes but is based on custom and court decisions of the past (most often with its origin in the old unwritten laws of England)

We were able to make a decision about our case by researching previous cases of common law.

common property

- real property owned by a group of tenants in a condominium or subdivision which everyone has the right to use, land that is owned by the government which everyone can use

The exercise machine is common property and anyone in the apartment complex can use it.

community property

- property belonging jointly to a married couple or acquired during their marriage

The couple decided to divide some of their community property and give it to their children.

comparative negligence

- in a civil lawsuit where the fault (negligence) of the two parties is taken into account in assessing damages

The judge determined that it was a case of comparative negligence and the landlord and the tenant both had to pay damages.

conclusive evidence

- evidence that is so strong that it proves the point in question beyond a reasonable doubt

The witness offered conclusive evidence that led to the conviction of the criminal.

conditional sale

- a contract where the title to the goods being sold will not go to the purchaser until a certain condition is fulfilled

The sale of the house was a conditional sale and I had to talk to my bank manager before the deal was complete.

consecutive sentences

- sentences that are given to someone with one sentence following immediately after the other sentence

The criminal was given three consecutive sentences for the murder of the young girls.

contempt of court

- disobedience of the orders and authority of the court, disrespect for the court process

The man was in contempt of court when he was several hours late for the trial.

crack down on (someone or something)

- to enforce a rule or law more strictly

The police have decided to crack down on speeding cars.

criminal law

- the law that is concerned with crimes by people against the state or society with the purpose to punish the offender

The university law department has the best criminal law library in the country.

dangerous offender

- a person who has been convicted of a violent crime and is a continuimg threat to others

Several dangerous offenders escaped from the prison last week.

disorderly conduct

- violent conduct that disturbs the peace of society or the community

Some football fans were charged with disorderly conduct after the fight during the game.

disturbing the peace

- disorderly or violent or threatening conduct that disturbs the peace and tranquillity of the community

Two men were arrested for disturbing the peace when they got into a fight in front of the shopping mall.

draw up an agreement/contract

- to put something into writing, to prepare a written statement

My lawyer is helping me to draw up an agreement to buy the small business.

due process (of law)

- the rights that each person has to be protected by the law

The man was accused of theft by his employer but he knew that he was entitled to due process of law and would be found to be innocent.

examination for discovery

- an oral examination that is taken under oath in which each side to a lawsuit has the right to examine the other side's witnesses before a trial or hearing

The man spent several hours in an examination for discovery in connection with his case.

expert witness

- an expert or specialist whose opinions are used as evidence in a trial or hearing

The lawyer called in an expert witness to look at the handwriting of the accused criminal.

extenuating circumstances

- special circumstances that explain an irregular or improper way of doing something

The man was able to avoid going to jail for stealing the money because of extenuating circumstances.

false arrest

- unlawful physical detention

It was a case of false arrest when the man was arrested as a suspect in the robbery.

false pretenses

- intentionally misrepresenting the facts in order to cheat or defraud someone

The woman was acting under false pretenses when she went to the bank and asked for a loan.

false witness

- a person who deliberately offers false or inaccurate evidence

The man was accused of being a false witness after he testified at the trial.

fee simple

- absolute title or ownership of real estate

The property was sold fee simple by the woman.

fine print

- the part of a document or contract that may contain important information but is not easily noticed because the print is small

It is a good idea to read the fine print before you buy something.

for cause

- reasons which the law accepts as justified

The man was fired from his job for cause after several violations of his contract.

free and clear

- owning something fully with no money owed or other restrictions on the item or property

My parents own their home free and clear.

give notice

- to inform an employer or employee or landlord or tenant that a contractual agreement will end

The woman gave notice that she will leave her job next month.

go into effect

- to becomes effective or in use (used for a law or rule)

The new parking law will go into effect at midnight.

go legit

- to begin operating as a legitimate or honest business after operating as an illegal business

The man decided to go legit and get the proper license for his small business.

go on record

- to make an official statement rather than an informal one

The mayor of the city will go on record to oppose the new convention center.

goods and chattels

- personal property (as opposed to land and buildings)

The goods and chattels of the man were seized by the bank to pay for his bad loan.

grace period

- a period of time (often about 30 days) after a bill or something is due

There was a 30-day grace period in which to pay the speeding ticket.

gray area

- an area of a subject that is not clearly defined

Smoking near public buildings is a gray area that the smoking law does not deal with.

grounded in fact

- based on facts

The decisions that were made during the legal discussions were grounded in fact.

grounds for (something)

- a cause or reason for legal action such as a lawsuit

The fact that the woman lied to her employer was grounds for firing her from her company.

have a brush with the law

- to have a brief experience or encounter with the law

The man had a brush with the law when he was a teenager.

have a case (against someone)

- to have strong evidence that can be used against someone

The police do not have a case against the young woman.

(not) have a leg to stand on

- to not have the facts to support or win an argument or a legal charge that is made against you (usually used in the negative)

The apartment manager tried to evict the young family but he did not have a leg to stand on and he lost the case in court.

have a run-in with (the law or someone)

- to have a bad or unpleasant encounter with the law or someone

The man had a run-in with the law when he was on his holiday.

have custody of (someone or something)

- to have the right to guard or protect or care for someone or something

The woman has custody of her two children.

have (someone) dead to rights

- to prove someone absolutely guilty

The police had the man dead to rights when they saw him stealing the car.

have (someone) in one's pocket

- to have control over someone

The businessman has the mayor of the city in his pocket.

have the right to (do something)

- to have the freedom or legal right to do something

The lawyer did not have the right to ask personal questions during the trial.

a hung jury

- a jury that is divided and unable to agree on a verdict

There was a hung jury after the trial of the famous singer.

implicate (someone) in (something)

- to suggest that someone is involved in something or connected to something

The president of the company was implicated in the expense account scandal.

in abeyance

- the temporary suspension of an activity or a ruling

My grandfather's estate settlement was in abeyance while the lawyers looked at his will in more detail.

in accordance with (something)

- conforming to something

The new contract was written in accordance with the new employment law.

in arrears

- late or overdue (usually for bills and money)

My account at the department store is in arrears.

in bad faith

- insincerely, with bad or dishonest intentions, with the intention to deceive someone

The manager was acting in bad faith when she refused to give the documents to the lawyer.

in consideration of (something)

- after thinking about something

In consideration of the amount of time that was spent on my case they charged me a lot of money.

in custody of (someone or something)

- being guarded or protected or cared for by someone or some group

The police put the man in custody for the night.

in debt

- owing money

The woman is in debt to the furniture store.

in dispute

- something that is in disagreement

Most parts of the contract are not in dispute.

in effect

- a law that is necessary to obey, something that is exerting force or influence

The new law has been in effect for three months now.

in favor of (something)

- in agreement with something

The members of the panel voted in favor of postponing the meeting.

in good faith

- with good and honest intentions

I went to the mediation session in good faith in order to try and resolve the dispute.

in kind

- in goods rather than in money

We were paid in kind for our work on the project.

in lieu of (something)

- instead of something

In lieu of being paid for our extra work we were given extra time off.

in perpetuity

- forever, eternally

The man was promised by the city that he would receive free parking in perpetuity.

in person

- personally, yourself

The man was asked to appear in the courtroom in person.

in plain English/language

- in simple and easy to understand language

The legal contract was written in plain English so that we could easily understand it.

in private

- secretly, not openly or in public, confidentially

The discussion between the two judges took place in private.

in public

- openly so others can see what you are doing, not secretly

The new smoking law does not permit smoking in public.

in receipt of (something)

- having received something

My lawyer is in receipt of the documents that I sent him.

in reference to (something)

- concerning/regarding/about something

The letter was in reference to my earlier request for legal advice.

in (someone's) name

- in someone's ownership, as someone's property

We put the property in my name so that it would be easier to get a loan with it.

in the act of (doing something)

- while doing something

The man was arrested in the act of stealing money from the cash register in the store.

in the right

- on the legal or moral side of an issue, not guilty of something, not responsible for something

I believed that I was in the right so I decided to take the case to court.

in the wrong

- on the illegal or wrong side of an issue, guilty of something, responsible for something

The man was in the wrong and was found guilty by the court.

in trouble with the law

- having legal problems, due to be punished by the law

The teenager is often in trouble with the law.

in trust of (someone)

- under the responsibility or care of someone

The money was given to the child in trust of his grandparents.

invasion of privacy

- the act of doing something so that someone loses his or her privacy

Some people think that it is an invasion of privacy when there are video cameras in public places.

invest (someone) with the power or legal right to (do something)

- to give someone the power or right to do something

The judge invested the police with the power to enforce the decision of the court.

jump bail

- to fail to appear in court and therefore give up the money that you paid for bail

The criminal jumped bail and went to another city to live.

last will and testament

- one's will (especially its latest edition) - a will is the legal term to describe the document that says what a person wants to do with his or her property after they die

I went to a lawyer in order to write my last will and testament.

law-abiding

- obeying the law

The couple were law-abiding citizens who never had any problems with the law.

a law unto oneself

- someone who makes his or her own laws or rules

The manager was a law unto herself and she thought that she could do whatever she wanted.

lay down the law

- to state firmly what the rules or laws are for something

We decided to lay down the law regarding the vacation schedule for our employees.

a leading question

- a question to a witness designed to suggest or produce the reply desired by the questioner

The lawyer asked the witness a leading question but was told to stop by the judge.

legal age

- the age when a person can do things such as buy alcohol or cigarettes or when they are responsible for their actions and can borrow money etc.

The young men were not of legal age and could not buy cigarettes.

let (someone) go

- to free someone from prison or from an arrest

The court decided to let the man go because there was no evidence to keep him in prison.

letter of the law

- the literal interpretation or the words of a law but not necessarily the intent of those who wrote the law

The lawyer always likes to follow the letter of the law.

lodge a complaint (against someone)

- to make a complaint against someone

The man decided to lodge a complaint against the company that had built the apartment building.

a matter of record

- a fact or something that is officially kept as a legal record and therefore can be proved

It is a matter of record about how much money the mayor spent on the foreign trip.

mineral rights

- the right to take minerals or money from the minerals on one's property

The farmer owned all of the mineral rights on his property.

moral turpitude

- behavior that is contrary to accepted rules of behavior

The judge accused the lawyer of moral turpitude because of the tactics that he used to defend his client.

next of kin

- someone's closest relatives or family members

The police notified the next of kin of the woman who was killed in the car accident.

null and void

- worthless, canceled

The check which was written by the company was null and void.

of one's own free will/accord

- by one's own choice

The woman signed the contract to buy the car of her own free will.

off the record

- unofficial, informal

The judge told the lawyers off the record what they could expect the lawsuit to settle for.

offensive weapon

- any weapon capable of being used to cause physical injury or harm

The young man with the knife was charged with carrying an offensive weapon.

on condition that

- providing that

The man was not sent to prison on condition that he volunteer and do work in the community.

on probation

- serving a period of probation - probation is when a person who is guilty of a crime is allowed to be free but is supervised by the government and its probation officers

The man was on probation for robbing a small store last year.

on record

- an official recorded statement or fact that everyone may know

The businessman was on record as having refused to accept any illegal money.

out on bail

- released from jail after you pay the bail bond money - the bail bond is the money that you must pay to guarantee that you will appear in court

The man was out on bail while he was waiting for his trial.

out on parole

- out of jail but being supervised by the police

While the criminal was out on parole he was forced to meet with a social worker every week.

pay one's debt to society

- to serve a sentence for a crime (usually in prison)

The man was forced to pay his debt to society by going to prison for three years.

a peeping Tom

- someone who looks into someone's window (usually a woman's window) and watches him or her

There was a report of a peeping Tom near our apartment building.

penalty clause

- a section in a contract specifing an amount of money to be paid if the contract is not fulfilled

There is a penality clause in our apartment rental agreement if we decide to move early.

post mortem

- a medical examination of a body made after death to determine the cause of death

The authorities performed a post mortem on the dead man to try and determine the cause of his death.

power of attorney

- a legal document granting authority for one person to act as another's representative

The woman was given power of attorney over her mother's daily affairs.

a preliminary hearing

- a hearing before a judge to determine if there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime

The man appeared at a preliminary hearing to determine the nature of the crime.

prima facie

- at first view (prima facie is from Latin), something is assumed to be true in the absence of evidence to the contrary

Prima facie, it seems that the man has enough evidence to take legal action against his employer.

privy to (something)

- to have unique or special knowledge about something

I was not privy to the conversation regarding the new business plan so I cannot comment on it.

punitive damages

- extra damages awarded to someone in order to punish them and in order to deter others

The patient was awarded much money as punitive damages in his lawsuit against the hospital.

put (something) down in black and white

- to write something down, to make or draw up a contract

I put my plans for the meeting down in black and white.

quid pro quo

- something for something (quid pro quo is from Latin), mutual concessions made by the parties in a transaction

The government and the teachers changed their contract demands in a quid pro quo effort to solve their dispute.

the responsible party

- the person or party that is legally or morally obliged to do something or accept the blame for something

The responsible party was forced to compensate the victim of the crime.

run afoul of the law

- to get into trouble with the law

The young man ran afoul of the law and was taken into police custody.

serve notice on (someone)

- to deliver a legal announcement or document to someone

The company served notice on the workers that they would close the factory next year.

set (someone) free

- to release someone from prison or captivity

The police set the man free when they decided that there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime.

show cause

- to give a reason or explanation for something

The lawyer was asked to show cause about why the man was guilty of the crime.

show good faith

- to demonstrate good intentions or good will

We try to show good faith when we meet the opposing side in our contract negotiations.

sign on the dotted line

- to put your signature on a contract or other important document

We signed on the dotted line of the contract to start the new business.

signed, sealed and delivered

- having formally and officially signed something

The contract was signed, sealed and delivered before we went home for the evening.

skip bail

- to fail to appear in court and therefore give up the money that you paid for bail

The amount of bail was very high so that the accused criminal would not skip bail.

small print

- the part of a document or contract that may contain important information but is not easily noticed because the print is small

I read the small print before I bought the television.

spirit of the law

- something as it is meant to be and not as it is stated exactly, what the people who made the law wanted to achieve

The judge tried to follow the spirit of the law and not only as it was written.

stand one's ground

- to stand up for one's rights

I stood my ground and refused to do anything that was not totally honest.

stay of execution

- a court order to temporarily stop another court order or judgement - this can be used for any kind of court order

There was a stay of execution on the order to demolish the old house.

the straight and narrow

- a straight and law-abiding route through life

The young man was back on the straight and narrow after talking with the police officer and the social worker.

stretch the truth

- to misrepresent the truth (usually in a small way)

The witness was stretching the truth when she told the judge her excuse for the crime.

subject to (something)

- depending on something

The sale of the house is subject to our getting a report from the housing inspector.

take effect

- to become effective or in use (used for a law or rule)

There is a new law related to Internet advertising that will soon take effect.

take the law into one's own hands

- to try to administer the law on your own

The transit supervisor was taking the law into his own hands when he tried to arrest the man.

take precedence over (someone or something)

- to be more important than someone or something, to have the right to come before someone or something else

The laws about the safety of children take precedence over many other laws.

to the letter

- precisely, exactly

The lawyer always suggests that his clients follow the judge's decisions to the letter.

trumped-up

- false and exaggerated, invented by fraud or criminal deception

The business owner was arrested on trumped-up charges.

turn a blind eye to (someone or something)

- to pretend not to see someone who is doing something wrong, to pretend not to see something that may be troublesome

The police often turn a blind eye to people who cross the street on a red light.

under a cloud (of suspicion)

- to be suspected of doing something wrong or illegal

The manager of the coffee shop was fired from her job under a cloud of suspicion.

under age

- below the legal age to do something

The boy was under age and was not able to buy cigarettes.

under arrest

- arrested by the police

The man was placed under arrest for stealing a car.

vicarious liability

- the liability of one person through the act of another

It was a case of vicarious liability when the man was charged because of his friend's behavior.

with impunity

- without risk of punishment

The man continued to abuse his position and clients with impunity.

with no strings attached

- with no obligations attached

The man was forced to agree to the terms of the agreement with no strings attached.

Idiom Quizzes - Legal and Law

    Choose an idiom to replace the expression in the brackets:

  1. The earthquake was (a natural event that nobody was responsible for) so the insurance company did not pay insurance for it.

    (a) grounded in fact (b) a gray area (c) an act of God (d) a matter of record



  2. The police department plan to (more strictly enforce the law against) people who drive too fast near schools.

    (a) build a case against (b) crack down on (c) take the law into their own hands with (d) turn a blind eye to



  3. The woman's account was (overdue) and she was going to have to start paying a penalty.

    (a) null and void (b) in dispute (c) at arm's length (d) in arrears



  4. The man was able to operate the illegal travel company (without risk of punishment).

    (a) with impunity (b) with no strings attached (c) under a cloud of suspicion (d) to the letter



  5. The manager wrote a letter of complaint using the assistant manager's name and was charged with (misrepresenting himself to achieve his illegal aims).

    (a) being an expert witness (b) being a false witness (c) false arrest (d) false pretenses



  6. The lawyers gathered a large group of people and began a (lawsuit that represents everyone).

    (a) class action lawsuit (b) community property lawsuit (c) bona fide lawsuit (d) next-of-kin lawsuit



  7. The mediator told the two groups in the lawsuit (unofficially) what he thought their chances of success would be.

    (a) beyond a reasonable doubt (b) off the record (c) by the book (d) in plain English



  8. The young man (got into trouble with the law) when he was a teenager.

    (a) lodged a complaint (b) jumped bail (c) ran afoul of the law (d) stretched the truth



  9. Our lawyer very carefully read the (part of the document which was difficult to read) before we signed the contract.

    (a) straight and narrow (b) common law (c) penalty clause (d) small print



  10. (At first view) it looked as though the man had a good case against the company.

    (a) Prima facie (b) Post mortem (c) Quid pro quo (d) Caveat emptor



  11. The group of men were arrested for (violent behavior) in front of the sport's stadium.

    (a) breach of promise (b) disturbing the peace (c) civil action (d) bad faith



  12. The fact that the woman had lied in her letter was (a reason for) her dismissal from her job.

    (a) in lieu of something for (b) in accordance with (c) in reference to (d) grounds for



  13. The small company has been (owing money) since it first started.

    (a) in debt (b) in bad faith (c) in kind (d) in abeyance



  14. The young woman was arrested (while) stealing some cosmetics from the store.

    (a) in custody of (b) in favor of (c) in the act of (d) in consideration of



  15. The man was charged with (disobeying the orders of the judge) when he was late for court.

    (a) disturbing the peace (b) contempt of court (c) comparative negligence (d) vicarious liability



  16. The (necessity to prove the case) is with the lawyer and her client.

    (a) burden of proof (b) due process of law (c) invasion of privacy (d) extenuating circumstances



  17. The man was arrested on (false and exaggerated) charges.

    (a) free-and-clear (b) contempt of court (c) law-abiding (d) trumped-up



  18. The wife was given (authority to act) over her husband's business affairs.

    (a) a preliminary hearing (b) power of attorney (c) a grace period (d) a case of mistaken identity



  19. I (delivered a legal announcement to) my employer that I would be leaving in two weeks.

    (a) laid down the law to (b) drew up an agreement for (c) served notice on (d) assumed liability for



  20. The man was given the right to use the property (forever).

    (a) in perpetuity (b) in effect (c) in person (d) in public




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