Legal Terms in Layman’s Terms

  • By:Staff


Deciphering legal terminology isn’t always easy — do you finish reading a contract and end up more confused than when you started? We get it. At Connors Law, we strive to create cut and dry agreements that anyone can understand, but what about that contract you got from your employer? Or that lease you’re supposed to sign by Friday? Thankfully, we’re here to help. We’ll share with you the definitions of several legal terms, including some we often use at our firm. First I’ll give you the textbook definition, followed by my translation as a non-attorney who works full-time at a law firm.



n. an addition to a completed written document. Most commonly this is a proposed change or explanation (such as a list of goods to be included) in a contract, or some point that has been the subject of negotiation after the contract was originally proposed by one party

Translation: an add-on to an agreement to get something else you (or your opposing party) want


n. the act of giving a judicial ruling such as a judgment or decree

Translation: when a judge makes a decision


n. 1) any written document in which the signer swears under oath before a notary public or someone authorized to take oaths (like a County Clerk), that the statements in the document are true. 2) in many states a declaration under penalty of perjury, which does not require the oath-taking before a notary, is the equivalent of an affidavit.

Translation: basically a statement that you swear is true and an official person is also there to verify your identity and witness that you swore it is true


n. a payment which is made before it is legally due, such as before shipment is made, a sale is completed, a book is completed by the author, or a note is due to be paid.

Translation: payment to secure services

Adverse Party (or Opposing Party)

n. the opposite side in a lawsuit. Sometimes when there are numerous parties and cross-complaints, parties may be adverse to each other on some issues and in agreement on other matters.

Translation: anyone with opposing interests in your legal matter


n. the exclusive right of the author or creator of a literary or artistic property (such as a book, movie or musical composition) to print, copy, sell, license, distribute, transform to another medium, translate, record or perform or otherwise use (or not use) and to give it to another by will. As soon as a work is created and is in a tangible form (such as writing or taping) the work automatically has federal copyright protection. On any distributed and/or published work a notice should be affixed stating the word copyright, copy or ©, with the name of the creator and the date of copyright (which is the year of first publication).

Translation: As soon as you write something, take a photo, etc. your work is automatically protected through federal copyright. You should register your work ASAP, so you have proof of its earliest creation. If your work is distributed or sold without your permission, you may be entitled to compensation.

Corp. – Corporation

n. an organization formed with state governmental approval to act as an artificial person to carry on business (or other activities), which can sue or be sued, and (unless it is non-profit) can issue shares of stock to raise funds with which to start a business or increase its capital. One benefit is that a corporation’s liability for damages or debts is limited to its assets, so the shareholders and officers are protected from personal claims, unless they commit fraud.

Translation: a business entity that will protect your personal assets and allow you to issue shares of stock


n. the party sued in a civil lawsuit or the party charged with a crime in a criminal prosecution. In some types of cases (such as divorce) a defendant may be called a respondent.

Translation: Plaintiff v. Defendant


n. the entire efforts of a party to a lawsuit and his/her/its attorneys to obtain information before trial through demands for production of documents, depositions of parties and potential witnesses, written interrogatories (questions and answers written under oath), written requests for admissions of fact, examination of the scene and the petitions and motions employed to enforce discovery rights.

Translation: the process of getting all the information you need to defend your client in a law suit

Intellectual Property

n. Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

Translation: NOT an idea – something you invented that can be protected by a patent, trademark, or copyright

LLC – Limited Liability Company

n. A limited liability company (LLC) is a corporate structure whereby the members of the company cannot be held personally liable for the company’s debts or liabilities. Limited liability companies are essentially hybrid entities that combine the characteristics of a corporation and a partnership or sole proprietorship. While the limited liability feature is similar to that of a corporation, the availability of flow-through taxation to the members of an LLC is a feature of partnerships.

Translation: a business entity that will protect your personal assets


n. any lawsuit or other resort to the courts to determine a legal question or matter.

Translation: the process of a law suit


n. an exclusive right to the benefits of an invention or improvement granted by the U.S. Patent Office, for a specific period of time, on the basis that it is novel (not previously known or described in a publication), “non-obvious” (a form which anyone in the field of expertise could identify), and useful. There are three types of patents: a) “utility patent” b) “design patent” and c) “plant patent”

Translation: federal protection for inventions that are new and useful


n. the party who initiates a lawsuit by filing a complaint with the clerk of the court against the defendant(s) demanding damages, performance and/or court determination of rights

Translation: Plaintiff v. Defendant

Process Server

n. a person who serves (delivers) legal papers in lawsuits, either as a profession or as a government official, such as a deputy sheriff, marshal or constable

Translation: someone qualified to deliver documents such as subpoenas or summons that by law must be delivered in person

Registered Agent

n. a responsible third-party who is registered in the same state in which a business entity was established and who is designated to receive service of process notices, correspondence from the Secretary of State, and other official government notifications, usually tax forms and notice of lawsuits, on behalf of the corporation or LLC.

Translation: a verified address and responsible person (often your attorney) who can receive mail and important government documents on behlaf of your business


n. a document issued by the court at the time a lawsuit is filed, stating the name of both plaintiff and defendant, the title and file number of the case, the court and its address, the name and address of the plaintiff’s attorney, and instructions as to the need to file a response to the complaint within a certain time (such as 30 days after service), usually with a form on the back on which information of service of summons and complaint is to be filled out and signed by the process server..

Translation: lawsuit documents delivered to the defendant


n. a distinctive design, picture, emblem, logo or wording (or combination) affixed to goods for sale to identify the manufacturer as the source of the product

Translation: protection for your logo or brand (like the Nike Swoosh)

Trust Account

n. an entity created to hold assets for the benefit of certain persons or entities, with a trustee managing the trust (and often holding title on behalf of the trust).

Translation: an account and a trustee that holds money for someone else

All “textbook definitions” courtesy of LAW.COM, WIPO, Investopedia, and Legal Zoom

All “translations” by Abigail Hammack


Posted in: Contracts