So you’re considering law school, are you? You’re anticipating decent scores on your A Levels and casting about for the best undergraduate programme that will grant you access to the finest schools of law in our country?
Or perhaps you are undecided whether to train as a solicitor or put in the extra time to be a barrister and you’d like a little help deciding.
No, you reply. You just like legal dramas and wish to understand them better!
Whatever your reason for wanting to understand legal terms and the rudiments of law, your Superprof has got you covered!
Here, we talk law: fine distinctions and grand differences; which type of lawyer you might need for any situation that might require representation, and advice for and even how to qualify for a law scholarship.
But first, an understanding of legal terms anyone in the legal field must know.
Glossary of Legal Terms
You may already know that a substantial portion of modern legalese is in fact Latin. There is a good reason for it.
Roman law is the foundation of the world’s legal systems still today.
At its height, the Roman Empire was so far-reaching that many lands and people were held to Roman standards of law.
Furthermore, countries that were not subjected to Roman influence or law considered it a fallback; a method of upholding and evolving their legal standards when local statutes did not adequately address the situation in question.
You might wonder, in these modern times, with Latin considered a dead language – at least, a not-necessarily-living one, why we continue to use it in law?
To a great extent, it has to do with the gravitas it lends, the air of formality. It is timeless yet ritualised, effectively demonstrating the continuity of human civilisation.
Let’s take the phrase pro bono, for instance. It translates to ‘for free’. Which sounds better?
"I’ll take your case pro bono" suggests that the merits of your case are deserving of the entire history of the legal profession to defend it.
I’ll take your case for free sounds like said attorney might not put his/her best effort into litigating on your behalf.
Here is another example...
Your Honour, my client has been found non-compos mentis and thus cannot appear today.
Contrast that with: “Your Honour, my client is not in his right mind...”
Other Latin terms relating to law and/or official matters include:
- pro tem, meaning for this time. A mayor pro tem is one who governs the city only until the next election can be held.
- Ad hoc means ‘when necessary or needed’. Some governing bodies may form an ad hoc committee to deal with a specific matter.
- Nolo contendre mean no contest. A defendant might use this term to plead no contest to a matter s/he is charged with suggesting s/he does not wish to contest the charges but is not admitting guilt.
Naturally, as the world has moved on and the legal profession with it, there are plenty of words used in law that originate in English.
Four Types of Law
Right about now, you might be wondering if we’ve gone off the rails! The law is an all-encompassing premise and is very exacting; how could there be only four types?
Naturally, you’re right about that. When we speak of the four types of law, we mean that there are four main types of law that govern and shape our society.
By that, we don’t mean the broad classifications of criminal versus civil law.
To an extent, Criminal Law is a class onto itself; the four divisions in question address Civil Law.
To be as exact as possible, those divisions are tort law, family law, contract law and personal disputes.
Isn’t every civil lawsuit a personal dispute?
That is correct, to a point. Nevertheless, there are specific distinctions:
Tort law addresses wrongdoings – by corporations, by individuals, by employers and, sometimes, even the government.
Family law covers divorces and legal separations, child custody and welfare, and adoption.
Contract law deals with anything pertaining to a contract. Instances may include actually drafting a contract, or a dispute arising out of one party not fulfilling their obligations under the terms of the contract
Personal disputes: bankruptcy, personal injury, public nuisance are all considered personal disputes
Every law student should know the distinctions between these four types of law!
Law tutors can help you make a clear distinction between them...
Get to know more about law tutoring here.
The Ten Most Prestigious Law Firms
There are many factors that go into determining prestige, as far as law firms are concerned.
They are revenue, profit per equity partner, number of lawyers, the total number of employees – the paralegals, the legal secretaries, the interns, as well as all of the lawyers.
The distinctions go further: local, national or international firms, the firm’s longevity, the landmark cases it has successfully litigated...
For example, Linklaters LLP gained significant status in law circles by advising on the creation of the Metropolitan Water Board.
And then, there are the fabled circles; the Magic Circle comprises of five London-based firms with the most revenue, the most international work, and that consistently outperform other London firms in profitability.
The Silver Circle, in no way inferior to the Magic Circle, describes the three largest national firms with no international ties.
That name suggests that there might be a Golden Circle, but there is not one.
Although not included in the Magic Circle, DLA Piper is, hands-down, the most prestigious law firm in the UK.
Renown for its long history and its record as largest firm in the world as measured by revenue, DLA Piper lawyers handle everything from banking and real estate to private equity and intellectual property.
Now discover more firms renown for their continuing legal education, legal writing and law practitioners!
Different Types of Lawyers
The uninitiated may reason that barristers and solicitors make up the sum total of lawyer types.
While they are indeed correct that those worthies handle different aspects of various types of law, that distinction does not begin to scratch the surface of how separate and varied the law actually is.
For example, you would not consult a tax attorney about divorce and custody matters.
To complicate such distinctions further: you do not need a tax lawyer if you are concerned about taxes on any real estate you own; a real estate lawyer would be well-versed in tax law as it applies to your property.
And should you engage a barrister or a solicitor?
That is really the fundamental question, isn’t it?
Both barristers and solicitors deal with family law, for example, but barristers will handle a contentious divorce and a solicitor suffices to negotiate child custody.
You may want to read further on the roles that barristers and solicitors play in the practice of law!
Pro Bono Work
Pro bono publico is a Latin phrase meaning for the good of the public, indicating that some sort of specialised work is performed for free.
Of course, because we are talking Law 101, the work in question deals with the legal field.
If you are in such a situation that you do not qualify for free legal aid but cannot afford a solicitor, you are in luck!
Since 2003, the UK legal community has dedicated a week to their law firms and law schools doing pro bono work: either work that is done in the public interest – such as immigration or education initiatives, or a specific type of case that affects an entity directly.
Pro bono work varies from volunteer work in several ways, one of them being how that work is reported to HMRC.
For example, a solicitor may offer time and resources at no cost but would charge a fee for travel done by working on the case.
When reporting that income, it would be marked ‘pro bono’ and would receive special consideration under tax laws.
Pro bono work may include mediation, arbitration and advocacy, all the way to litigation and other legal administrative functions.
Whether you are currently enroled in a school of law or already lawyering, do consider joining LawWorks.
This solicitors’ pro bono group helps raise awareness of pro bono work and functions as a clearinghouse for pro bono cases in our country.
Our country has many fine institutions at which you could undergo legal studies but, as you surely know, a legal education does not come cheap!
If you are a prospective scholar in business law, international law, constitutional law, environmental law or public law, you may qualify for a scholarship to attend the school of your dreams.
Similar programmes are offered at schools across the country; we’ve compiled the latest offerings in the table at the end of this article.
Should you opt to spend a semester abroad, perhaps studying American law or learning about international human rights, as an international student, you may benefit from scholarship help at select universities around the world.
Now that you have perhaps a better picture of the ethics, diversity and jurisprudence of the distinguished construct we call a legal system, along with a better view of the areas of law you might choose to practice, you might forge ahead and decide what type of lawyer you might become!
Law tutors are available throughout the UK to help with your studies; find out how you can 'retain' one!