As a paralegal, one must be just as familiar, if not more than an actual attorney, with legal terminology. In this position, the drafting, editing, filing and reading of important legal documents is an everyday duty. In fact, there are literally hundreds of terms used explicitly by the legal realm in such documents that a paralegal may need to understand and use at any given time. The following five examples provide just a glimpse at the legal terminology typical of the paralegal workday.
Diligence is an important term that is used to represent the concept of someone’s reasonable degree of care or attention to a particular matter. The stemming term, “due diligence” takes the concept a step further, representing the comparison of one’s acts to what a reasonable, typical, responsible person would likely do in the same situation.
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By closing the fence gate of your aggressive dog and maintaining awareness as to its physical state, you are showing responsible and due diligence. Maintaining a clear sidewalk in winter in some locales may fall into the category of diligence as well. Likewise, by thoroughly checking all mirrors before backing up your vehicle, you have just exercised due diligence.
In some legal cases, particularly lawsuits, the case being brought may be based on true facts but is of no legal standing for judicial action. An example of this might be a lawsuit filed that addresses the wrong party as a defendant. Another example is a suit that tries to lay blame on an incident that legal precedent already says that you simply cannot do. In such cases, the paralegal involved with the case may need to file a demurrer. This is basically a request of the court to dismiss the actions being brought due to the fact that there is no legal standing with which to bring them.
Wobbler is a seemingly lighthearted term that actually denotes a criminal act that can be either classified as a felony or a serious misdemeanor. Depending upon the way the laws are written in any given state, sometimes the characteristics of an individual crime place it in a realm in which it could fairly be classified either way. Felonies are very serious crimes while misdemeanors are less so, hence the importance of the most advantageous determination by the court of said discrepancy. In such a situation, it is typical that the prosecuting party will push for the wobbler to be considered a felony while the defense pulls for a lessening of the crime classification to misdemeanor.
Punitive damages are defined as award monies offered in a lawsuit that are specifically intended to punish and set example of a particularly egregious element found true of the accused. Such awards are not an everyday occurrence but certainly can be awarded and in conjunction with compensatory damages, or the damages simply awarded to compensate for the wrong or damage that occurred. Paralegals working in civil law utilize this term far more than those working on the criminal side of the court system.
Latin terminology is often used in the legal system. Mens Rea is a prime example of such terminology that must also be well-understood by the paralegal. Literally interpreted, the term means “guilty mind”.
In the courts, when this term is used, it does refer to guilt of mind, but specifically, it refers to the absolute awareness and knowledge of one’s own criminal actions. Some crimes contain an associated intent factor that must be proven. If the alleged wrongdoer is proven “Mens Rea” then they have been proven to have been aware of the guilt and criminality of the actions they chose to commit.
Paralegals sort of act as the skeletal structure of the functional attorney office-body. They craft the documents, do the research, and perform all of the behind-the-scenes work that is so crucial to virtually all attorney’s offices. The above, five examples of legal terminology utilized by these professionals regularly provide just a glimpse at the ultimate vocabulary with which they typically work.