What our new plain language legal glossary can do for you

This month we’re launching a new plain language legal glossary, available online and as a PDF. It might be of use to you in your work. Why would I need a plain language legal glossary, you ask. Have you ever struggled to write a clear and concise explanation for a legal term, or had someone ask you what a legal term means and mulled over how to find the right explanation? Our legal glossary has the answer.

Think of how you would explain ‘estoppel’, for example. Here’s a definition from a legal dictionary:

Estoppel The doctrine designed to protect a person (A), who has acted on an assumption or expectation induced by another person, (B), from the detriment which would flow from A’s change of position if B were allowed to withdraw the assumption or expectation that led to the change …

Now compare it with our plain language definition:

Estoppel A legal rule that stops someone from going back on what they said they would do in an agreement when it has been relied on by another party to their disadvantage.

We’re guessing that for even highly literate people, the legal dictionary definition might be a challenge. Think about how a member of the public might feel if they came across it.

Originally developed for users of our Everyday-Law website, the glossary has been designed with the general public in mind. It includes more than 450 common legal terms with explanations developed as the result of extensive scoping, research and consultation.

Writing a plain language glossary is challenging. We had to make sure that it was useful to our audience ­– that the scope, tone, language and level of detail were right. And we had to make sure it was accurate. Take for example, ‘estoppel’ – the term we started with. The explanation captures the essential meaning, but intentionally does not try to describe all the different types of estoppel, let alone in detail.

To assist us in developing the glossary, we set up a reference group that included practising lawyers, academics and editors of the main law dictionaries in Australia. Working with them we developed an initial list of terms covering Victoria’s legal system, the courts, criminal and civil law and procedure, family law and business law, among other areas. We narrowed the list down based on how common a legal word was, how well it was known and whether it was too specialised for the glossary.

Once we had agreed on the list, we wrote the entries to meet plain language standards. We’re confident they are clear, concise and explain any technicalities, but welcome your feedback.

So now it’s over to you download the glossary below. You are also welcome to republish it on your website and in your publications. We just ask that you attribute Victoria Law Foundation at the end.

Download our Legal glossary.

This page was last updated on February 15, 2016