Getting Started With Law Terminology

There are many forms of law in which you can specialise: here is a sample of the terminology and fields you may encounter. Remember that a career in law is very competitive, so any opportunity to stand out from other applicants is key, and that can be through a deeper understanding of the subject.

Author: Adi Sen

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There are many forms of Law available to specialise in – here’s a taster of some of the terminology & fields you might come across.

Having a good knowledge of key law terminology can be a good indicator to tutors that you know your stuff and are interested in the subject.

You will get the opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the law in the LNAT or CLT, Interview and Personal Statement. For instance, the key to a successful Personal Statement comes from showing your interest and suitability to the chosen degree. You can make your case far stronger by proving you understand what the degree will involve and then providing relevant content in your Personal Statement. 


One way to start understanding key terminology and to help you demonstrate your interest to admissions tutors is through wider reading. Look for introductory law texts suitable for those who have never studied law before when you first start. This will support your understanding rather than intimidate you with unfamiliar language.


One such text is Criminal law: the basics – by Jonathan Herring. We discuss this in more detail in our Principles of a Successful Law Personal Statement article. 


Remember, Law is a very competitive degree so any opportunities to stand out from the other applicants is key and that can be through your deeper understanding of the subject by using critical thinking developed from wider reading. 


Law is the epitome of human reason; it is the force that holds society together and the cornerstone on which great civilizations were built upon. By dictating a code of conduct which everyone had to abide by, it has created a system of accountability and allowed society to flourish. However, Law is never static. It changes with time – internalising new concepts and discarding anachronistic ones to reflect societal norms. It is this dynamic nature of the Law that I find so enthralling – that there exists a gamut of good answers but never a right one. Such idealism aside, I believe excellence in legal study and work does not come easy. It requires much passion, intellect and hard work.

Take this Law Personal Statement introduction as an example. This is from a student who received an offer from Cambridge. They have provided clear evidence of interest and understanding of the law which is based on their wider reading and school studies. Their use of more complex but also relevant language strengthens their application and really demonstrates the student’s passion. A full analysis of this successful Personal Statement can be found here

The law can be complicated and it is filled with technical terminology that many find confusing and unfamiliar.

We have put together a list of some of the terminology and definitions you are likely to come across to help you with your initial understanding. It is then up to you to take this further and start wider reading to strengthen your Personal Statement and interviews. 

Criminal Law

At a basic level, it is important to divide up criminal law and civil law. Criminal law is quite self-explanatory, it is the division of the law that convicts people of a criminal offence, and gives them a sentence for that offence, such as a term of imprisonment.

Civil Law

At a general level, this is the division of the law where people bring a claim against another party, usually to claim a monetary award (called damages). This can be for breach of contract or negligence for example. These claims are not criminal and are often used to enforce promises or obligations that the parties owe to each other.


In civil law, the claimant (previously known as the plaintiff) is the person bringing the claim, i.e. the person trying to sue another party. It is important to note that this language is limited to civil law claims. In criminal claims, it is the Crown, not the victim, who is seeking to prosecute the alleged offender.


You can identify immediately that a case is a criminal case as the first party in the case name will always be Regina (often shortened to just R), for example the case name will be R v Smith.


In contrast, in a civil case, the name will include both parties, for example Smith v Jones. It should also be noted that the ‘v’ in a case name is said as ‘and’ when spoken aloud, rather than ‘v’ or ‘versus’. This means you would say ‘Smith and Jones’. You can find more information on law terminology on The Law Society Website. 


This is the person that is subject to a claim or allegation made against them. This does not have to be an individual human, it can be a company or an institution. They then have to defend the claims made against them and if they lose the case they may be punished if it is a criminal case, or have to pay damages if it is a civil case for instance.

Supreme Court

This is the highest court in the judicial system in England & Wales. All of its decisions are binding authority on lower courts, meaning that they are obliged to follow its decisions. The judges that make up the Supreme Court have some of the sharpest legal minds and their views on the law have significant influence.


The legal profession in England and Wales is divided into barristers and solicitors. A barrister is the one who addresses the court and speaks directly to the judge or jury (often what you see on TV!). Barristers are generally self-employed, but their offices are arranged in groups called Chambers where the barristers are usually all working in the same area of law.


A solicitor instructs the barrister on the case they are dealing with. Solicitors work more directly with the clients and have less of a role advocating in court, although it is possible for some solicitors to address the court. Solicitors also work on drafting contracts and dealing with transactions between companies for example. In comparison to barristers, solicitors generally work for a law firm and are not self-employed.

Are you set on studying Law? 

At UniAdmissions, we are experts at maximising your chances of gaining a place to study Law at Oxford or Cambridge University. We provide LNAT and CLT specialised support to help you craft the perfect application. If you are not applying to an Oxbridge University, we have a comprehensive Standard Law Premium Programme for you too. 


Our Oxbridge Law Premium Programme gives you everything you need to ultimately gain your dream offer.

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