Common Knowledge of Legal Abbreviations and Legal Maxims

The legal profession is known for their prompt use of language and so it is right to say, “ Lawyers trade with words!”. It is very important for a legal professional to have at least the basic understanding of what a legal maxim and legal abbreviation means in order to survive in the field.  Lawyers in specific need to be aware of all the maxims and abbreviations to stand out among the others. These simple terms used to represent a legal term or a legal concept have a deep impact in framing new statutes and also in legal books, journals, etc.

Origin of Legal Maxims:

The legal system was originally structured and framed by the Romans who used their moral instincts to define the laws. As Rome had control over most of the European Countries and The Middle East, after the Roman empire fell apart, the succeeding governments used the existing Roman laws. These Roman laws are the foundation to all the laws of the common law countries. The Romans considered every Non-Roman as “Barbarians”, so they focused their laws on latinizing them, which is the origin of Latin terms encroaching into the modern legal system.

How is a Legal Maxim different from a Legal Abbreviation:

Legal maxims in the present day world are such Latin words that originated during the Roman empire and slowly became a major part of the legal system as it slowly got handed over from the judgements made during that time. The common law comprises of these Latin terms that are usually used to give a precise meaning to various legal concepts in an abbreviated version. However, as these terms were handed down through generations of judges, the interpretations of these terms were different in distinct contexts. The legal maxims did not have a prescribed meaning to what concept it actually describes.

A legal abbreviation, on the other hand, is similar to any other abbreviation used colloquially, except that these terms are used to denote a legal entity. Such terms are used as citations in court decisions, legal journals, legal writings, books, statutes, etc. to denote any legal phrase or term. Unlike legal maxims, however, legal abbreviations have a standard meaning throughout their usage in all forums.

Their impact on the common folk:

Legal maxims and legal abbreviations have become a part and parcel of the everyday life of a legal professional. Every legal document right from statutes and books to journals and judgements, legal maxims and legal abbreviations are scattered around. The influence of these terms on lawyers and law students have not only affected their language but has also extended to the common folks too. The repetitive nature of a few terms that have no substitute words in the English language has made them a common term of usage amongst the public. For example, the term bona fide which means ‘in good faith’ has become a part of the regular lives of the people. The term per se which means ‘by itself’, is also a Latin term that is being used at various instances colloquially. Even terms like vis and versus are Latin originated words that are often used involuntarily.

Legal abbreviations were initially used in courts for denoting previous cases and/or journals but later was used for many other denotations. It is always necessary to have a common set of abbreviations to make it more understandable to everyone who are using it, so it does not have to be read out each time it is being used. The term PIL has been used to denote ‘Public Interest Litigation’  throughout the world. Every time it is being used in a sentence each person recognises the meaning of it showing that there is a common understanding of the terms.

How to decode the maxims and abbreviations:

  1. Maxims: Legal maxims have a Latin origin. There are a few repetitive terms that are being used and also terms that are similar to their English meaning, which can be used to understand the basic idea of what the maxim means. For instance, the word jus is used to denote “ law”, locus as in ‘location’, res meaning ‘issue’, etc. There are also terms like absentia(absence), personam (person), extremis (extreme), priori (before), post(after), initio (initial), etc. that resemble their English meanings.
  2. Abbreviations: Since legal abbreviations are just short for English words, they are easier to interpret. Moreover, all abbreviations have a common format to be followed that is prescribed by the most common source for abbreviating words, The Bluebook. The format is easily understandable and is similarly used to keep it simple. For example, LLP stands for ‘Limited Liability Partnership’ and LLC stands for ‘Limited Liability Contract’, where we can see three letters denoting the first letters of three words. So a combination of words are represented by their first letters. Similarly, there are many other combinations to abbreviate different words and phrases.


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