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Ten Legal English Idioms

Ten Legal English Expressions You Should Know

Studying Legal English can be hard, particularly with the advanced vocabulary and expressions that you need to know in order to be a successful lawyer. In this article, we teach you ten Legal English Expressions that you will hear regularly at your office.

Ten Legal English Expressions

Whether you are meeting an important client or negotiating a contract, understanding the idioms, phrasal verbs and unique vocabulary that are utilised in these professional contexts is important to a successful legal career.

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The office is where idioms and English expressions are used frequently by native speakers. It may even feel as if people only speak using idioms and slang words. There are tons of expressions in Legal English and the ten expressions you will learn today will help you to communicate more effectively at your law firm or legal department.

The Best Legal English Course You Can Take

Before we look at these phrases, how can we make sure that you are learning new legal phrases in a way that you will be able to remember them and use them in the future?

Legal English UK launches Idioms Course

Here are our top three tips for actually learning new legal English expressions (and using them regularly in speech):

  • Always try to learn new phrases in context, so try to take your vocabulary and phrases from authentic law materials (such as The Times Law and the Legal English Blog);

  • Don’t forget to use active learning (learning through speaking and writing) as well as passive learning (learning through reading and listening);

  • Review your new expressions frequently. You should try to use the word at least several times over several different days.

How to improve your legal writing


Let's look at putting some phrases into context. I like to get my students to build a story using the expressions that we have learnt so here is a short story packed with idioms and expressions.

When I started my law firm, I knew that it would be a long shot to get it off the ground.

I began by trying to carve out a niche in an industry that is packed to the brim with big players.

At first it was difficult and I knew I had to find some ways to stand out from the pack, particularly with marketing.

My first idea went nowhere but my second idea took off immediately and I have never looked back.

Let's look at those expressions in greater detail.

A Long Shot

If you think of a long shot in basketball or football, it is an attempt on goal from a great distance. A long shot is therefore a metaphor for something that is difficult to achieve.

To get off the ground/Take off

The law of gravity states that everything should remain on the ground and it is very difficult to force and object upwards. Therefore, getting something off the ground means to start a business. Take off is a phrasal verb that means the same thing.

Carve out a Niche

Means to find a special market that you can control. Niche markets are very small and specific.

Some examples of niche markets are organic recipes for pregnant woman, life size teddy bear making courses, law services for single fathers, you get the idea.

For example, to succeed in a competitive world, you have to specialise on a part of it. Try to carve out a niche and be the best in that field.

A similar phrase to ‘carve out a niche’ is to corner the market. This means you control part of a particular market, which is easier to do in niche markets.

Packed to the Brim

A brim is the upper edge of a cup or bowl and if you fill it with liquid, it will go over the edge. If something is packed to the brim it is full to capacity and that's exactly what you need in your business with customers and clients (as long as you can deal with them all of course).

Big Players

The big players are the big companies within your sector. In the legal sector, that may include Legal English UK clients such as Baker & McKenzie and Ashurst. In the banking sector, big players might include HSBC and Barclays.

Stand Out from the Pack

For any law firm to succeed, it needs to be different from everybody else in the marketplace. A synonym for pack is group (you can have a pack of wild animals and a pack of cards) but there are usually one or two parts of this pack which stand out.

Never Look Back

This means to not dwell in the past and regret things that have happened previously. You are positive and progress in business easily.

Set Up

This is a phrasal verb which means to start or begin a project. In Legal English, we can talk of setting up a business. For example, "He has set up a furniture business to take advantage of the popularity in bespoke furniture."

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

In order to maintain your focus, it is necessary to keep in mind why you have set up a business and why you have been trying to carve out a niche in this difficult industry. Have a goal in mind or keep an eye on the prize. My advice to anybody who wants to set up a business is to keep your eye on the prize.

Legal English UK delivers world-class language and law courses to ambitious international lawyers around the world. For further information, contact us.

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