Legalese Guide for Employment Law: A List of Words to Help You Understand Lawyer Speak

Fondly termed “legalese” or “lawyer speak,” this legal vocabulary can feel like a whole new language for someone who is only interacting with the law for a short period of time. To fully understand every nuance of legalese, you need to head to law school. But, if you don’t have time for that, here’s a cheat sheet to legalese.

lawyer holding books and gavel

Legalese Guide for Employment Law:

A List of Words to Help You Understand Lawyer Speak

While many legal terms have developed over the years from court cases, other terms have a much longer history. In fact, some words still used in the courtroom today are straight Latin. The use of Latin language carries over from the legal system of Ancient Rome, which deeply impacted the United States law. The legal system in the United States uses a variation of Ancient Roman law referred to as “Common Law.” Therefore, the Latin language became the root of legalese that lawyers so easily speak, along with the fact that Latin and Greek are often taught in law school as well.

Below Latin words will be in italics. This legalese dictionary is not comprehensive and only touches on a small number of lawyer speak words that are used alongside of employment law. Every type of law has its own niche of legalese.

The Legalese Dictionary

Ad hoc

Generally referring to a person or thing introduced only for a specific purpose or a particular situation.

At-will employment

An employment relationship where no contractual agreement binds the employer to the employee for a set amount of time. Either party can end the employment relationship at any time with at-will employment.

Back pay

Damages awarded during an employment lawsuit that represents the amount of wages the employee would have earned if not fired or denied promotion.

Cafeteria plan

Employers provide employees with a selection of available benefits, and the employees create their own benefit package up to a certain dollar amount.

Cause of action

This fact or group of facts allows an individual the right to seek legal help to regain damages or receive relief. This also can be the legal theory behind the lawsuit.


Literally meaning “approximately,” the law usage refers to a certain date or time.

Comparable worth

This legal concept compares similar jobs of similar worth and emphasizes the idea that employees be paid similarly regardless of gender.

Constructive discharge

When an employee feels forced to resign their position due to hostile work environment, the employer is liable. It shares similarities with wrongful termination.


Specifically meaning “body,” it can also refer to the principal of an estate or trust that is separate from profit or interest.

Culpa in contrahendo

Translating to “fault in conclusion of a contract,” this phrase represents an important principle in contract law.


This represents the losses suffered by the victim of wrongdoing and what can be recovered in a law suit.

De facto

Meaning “in fact,” it is often used in place of the word “actual.” This demonstrates that the court will regard the information as fact.


The person being sued who must defend themselves from the claims brought against them. They can also bring their own claims against their accuser. These are counterclaims.

De lege ferenda

This phrase points to the “future law” and what a particular law should be instead of what it is now.


When either side of a lawsuit requesting information from the other side about the case, this is considered discovery. Discovery requests must be answered within a short amount of time.

Types of Discovery

Interrogatories are a series of written questions asked from one side to the other. The answers must be written under oath.

Request for Production is when a side requests documents or case-related things from the other side.

Depositions are formal question and answer sessions conducted with an attorney, court reporter, and witness. The witness swears an oath to tell the truth during the attorney’s questions. The witness signs off on the written transcript, confirming that it is accurate.

Requests for Admission occurs when a side asks that a fact be admitted or denied. It’s possible for the answer to still be used in trial regardless of whether or not the fact has been admitted.

Docket is the term used for how the court keeps track of cases.


Referring to a statement of fact brought before a court, it can also mean a brief.

Implied contract

A verbal agreement that might not be written but is understood as binding. This type of contract can be legally enforced.


Responsibility for the damages falls on the defendant. A lawsuit tries to prove that the defendant is liable for injuries and damages caused to another.

Le lege lata

This phrase translates to “the law as it exists.”

Lex fori

Translating to “laws of the forum,” it is used when there is a conflict of laws in relation to laws in a jurisdiction where a legal suit has been filed.

Pacta sunt servanda

Applying to international and civil law, this phrase focuses on private contracts.


The person who files the lawsuit is also sometimes called a claimant. This individual is seeking to recover the damages experienced from an action of the defendant.

Prima facie

Translated to mean “on its first appearance” or “at first sight,” prima facie means that the issue meets certain legal requirements upon initial examination or facts that support the case. When a case does not meet those requirements, it could be dismissed.


This word refers to the document that summons an individual to court.


A word that cites the direct relationship between two items.


If you have experienced employment discrimination, contact an employment discrimination lawyer who will know how to navigate your case and your rights under the law.

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