Question: I was in court recently and heard the lawyers say a bunch of Latin legal terms. What to they usually mean?
Answer: Perhaps intellectual elitism motivates lawyers to use such language in court. More likely, fancy words help them to justify high legal fees. Either way, your intriguing question caused me to quiz myself. How many terms do you know?
Ad Valorem – “a tax on real estate.”
Bona Fide – “in good faith” – usually to describe an honest actual purchaser of land.
De Novo – “afresh or anew” – typically describing a new trial.
Et Al – “and others” – commonly used as an abbreviation when multiple names are included as a party to a lawsuit.
Habeas Corpus – “you shall have the body” (my favorite definition) – used when a criminal detainee is transferred from detention to the court for a hearing.
In Loco Parentis – “in place of a parent” (this does not mean: crazy parents) – a college for example can take on parental responsibilities over its residing students.
Mens Rea – “criminal mind” – mens rea is required to make most actions rise to the level of criminal.
Per Stirpes – “by branch” – used to describe common lines of inheritance among a family tree, if each branch receives an equal share.
Pro Bono – “for the public good” – usually used to describe free services.
Res Judicata – “a matter already judged” – thus barring further legal action among parties.
Res Ipsa Loquitur – “the thing speaks for itself” – law school taught me, the man who was injured near a construction site by a falling barrel, had an easy case to prove. It speaks for itself.
Vice Versa – “the other way around” – I never realized this term came from Latin descent.
Attorney James Haroutunian is the founder of Priority Law. The article was originally published in the Lowell Sun and is for informational purposes only and not to be relied on as legal advice, in any manner.