Jargon buster

 

Want to get ahead in law? Check out our glossary of the most common terms and phrases, relating to the legal sector and the work handled by commercial law firms, you’ll come across as a law student, trainee solicitor or indeed junior lawyer.

A

ABS stands for ‘alternative business structure’ and put simply allows non-lawyers to have a financial stake in a law firm.

Abort fee is the amount billed to a client when a deal, on which the lawyer is advising, fails to complete.

ADR stands for ‘alternative dispute resolution’. It is used as a way to resolve a dispute without going to court. Arbitration (see below) and mediation (see column 3) are examples of this.

Advisory lawyers provide clients with expertise on particular aspects of the law, such as tax planning, and make recommendations as to the action they should take in given situations.

Appraisal is a periodic assessment of a trainee or associate solicitor’s performance and progression. Trainee solicitors typically have a mid-seat and end of seat appraisal.

Arbitration is a method used to resolve a dispute without going to court: A third party (the arbitrator) looks at both sides of the dispute and makes a decision as to how it should be resolved; those involved may agree to be bound by the decision of the arbitrator.

Assistant solicitor is the next stage on the career ladder after you complete your two year period of qualifying work experience.

Associate solicitor is an alternative title to assistant solicitor.

B

B2B stands for ‘business-to-business’

B2C stands for ‘business to consumer’

Beauty parade is a colloquial term for an invitation to tender where a client invites a number of competing law firms to pitch for legal work. The successful firms are invited to join the client’s panel of legal advisers.

Bibling involves putting together a set of all the relevant documents relating to a deal. Predictably, the end product is known as a bible.

Billable hours is the time spent working on a project that can be charged to the client, according to an agreed hourly rate. Non-billable on the other hand, includes time spent on activities that benefit a law firm at large, including business development and pro bono.

Boutique or niche firms are small outfits that specialise in one or limited areas of law such a litigation.

Brief to counsel is a summary prepared by a solicitor for a barrister, containing all of the information and documents relevant to the presentation of a case in court.

Buy-side as the name suggests involves advising the purchaser(s) on an M&A deal. The opposite to this is sell-side.

C

Capacity refers to a trainee, assistant or associate solicitor’s ability to take on more work from a client and/or colleagues before they reach 100 per cent utilisation.

Chargeable hours is the time spent on a piece of work and includes billable hours (this is the time that can be billed to a client) and non-billable hours (this is the time spent non-client work) including business development, CSR, and training etc.

The City of London (also known as the Square Mile) is the UK’s financial district.

Close of business / play or COB/COP refers to the end of a business day.

Conditional fee arrangement, also called ‘no win no fee’, is an arrangement whereby a solicitor acting on a claim agrees only to be paid a fee in the event it is successful. Such a payment is typically made by the losing party.

Contentious is a situation involving a dispute between clients.

Corporate finance is an area of law that relates to the various ways corporations raise funds, including IPOs (see middle column) and bond issues, to grow or strengthen their existing business, or realise new opportunities.

Counsel is an alternative phrase for describing a barrister. It is also commonly used as a job title for an in-house solicitor. For example, general counsel are typically the most senior in-house lawyers in an organisation whilst those in the lower ranks are referred to as legal counsel or junior counsel.

CSR stands for ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ and is the practice of businesses, including law firms, taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on society. On the ground CSR activities might include a firm’s lawyers helping school children at a local school with literacy support or volunteering at a soup kitchen.

D

Disbursement are fees that are paid to law firms as required as part of legal services. For example, this could be a payment made by lawyers for a local authority search in relation to the purchase of a property.

Disclosure involves making relevant documentation available to the other parties in a dispute.

Dispute resolution involves advising conflicting parties to reach an agreement. It encompasses litigation and various alternative methods, such as mediation, negotiation and arbitration (see above).

Due diligence or DD is a process, typically handled by trainee solicitors and junior lawyers, that involves thoroughly reviewing legal and commercial documents such as supplier agreements, IT contracts, employment contracts etc, to determine the health of a business that is up for sale. The findings will then be used by the purchaser to determine whether they should walk away, negotiate a price drop or ask for certain guarantees.

E

Eat what you kill describes a compensation system (especially in a law firm) where the pay received by partners is based on how much business they personally bring to the firm. In a pure eat-what-you-kill system, each partner takes home only what he /she generates in income.

Equity partner is the co-owner of a law firm. He or she is rewarded by receiving a share of the firm’s annual profit.

ESG stands for ‘Environmental, Social and Governance’ and are the three core elements of a responsible law firm’s sustainability strategy.

F

Fee-earner is an individual working in a law firm who produces work that can be billed to a client and includes, paralegals, trainee solicitors, assistant / associate solicitors and partners. Non fee-earners employed by a law firm include individuals working in the business services team and covers human resources, public relations and marketing etc.

Fixed fee is an alternative to hourly rates (see below) and represents the price agreed between a law firm and its client to complete a piece of work irrespective of how long it ultimately takes to get the job done.

FTSE (Financial Times Share Index) 100 (pronounced ‘footsie’) is the index of the 100 most valuable companies listed on the main market of the London Stock Exchange. The value of these so-called ‘public companies’ is used to give an indication of the health of the UK’s economy.

G

GDL stands for ‘Graduate Diploma in Law’ and refers to the qualification that allows non-law graduates to convert to law. Note the GDL is in the process of being phased out and replaced by the SQE (see column three).

Grunt work – administrative (and admittedly boring) yet essential tasks handled by the most junior members of the legal profession, covering photocopying, bundling, bibling, paginating, scheduling documents, data room duties and proof-reading or checking that documents are intact.

H

Highly leveraged – the practice of having a ratio of few partners to lots of assistant / associates and trainees. Note leverage is also a term used in finance – the two are not connected. Leveraged finance is typically used to fund private equity deals.

Hourly rate is the agreed amount a client is charged for each hour a lawyer spends working on their behalf. The rate charged typically depends on the level of experience gained by the lawyer advising on similar work.

Hybrid working is a flexible working model that has become increasingly prevalent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and involves an employee splitting their time between the office and working remotely. Other working models include agile (a way of working in which a firm empowers its staff to work where, when and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints – to optimise their performance and to do their best work) and hot desking (a system of allocating desks to workers when they are required or on a rota system, rather than giving each worker their own workspace).

I

In-house lawyer is used to describe a solicitor or barrister who is employed by a company, charity, regulator, central or local government.

Injunction is a court order requiring a party to do, or to refrain from doing, certain acts.

Interim billing refers to when a law firm invoices a client in regular increments for its legal work as a project progresses.

Instructing refers to authorising a lawyer to represent you on behalf of a piece of legal work. An instruction (sometimes referred to as a matter) describes the type of work that a client wants the lawyer to do.

Investor relations is the part of a public company responsible for managing shareholder expectations by maintaining communication with them on a regular basis.

IPO stands for ‘Initial Public Offering’ and involves a privately owned company selling its shares to external investors, such as pension funds, and then listing them on a stock exchange. An IPO is also known as a flotation or going public. For a bluffer’s guide to IPO’s check out this blog.

J

Joint and several liability is the legal rule that says each partner in a firm is liable for all of that firm’s debts.

Joint venture is a legal agreement between two businesses to pool resources to create a separate third business that may be a separate company in its own right.

Judicial review – the legal process by which the actions of the government or public bodies can be challenged.

K

A Knowledge lawyer or professional support lawyer (PSL) supports his/her relevant practice group to enhance the quality of its know-how materials, and other resources such as precedents. Some knowledge lawyers also work alongside their colleagues in the business development team and contribute towards client briefings and webinars etc.

L

L&D stands for ‘learning and development’

Legal tech encompasses IT-related solutions designed to support, enhance or replace traditional ways of delivering legal services. Examples of legal tech include document automation and electronic discovery.

LLP stands for ‘Limited Liability Partnership’ and is a way of structuring a professional partnership such that no partner is liable to any of the firm’s creditors above and beyond a certain sum.

Litigation is a method of settling a dispute through legal proceedings in court.

Lockstep is a system of increasing assistant / associate solicitor’s salaries based purely on seniority and does not take into account areas of specialism, hours worked etc. A similar system is also used to determine how a law firm’s profit is distributed amongst its equity partners.

M

M&A stands for ‘mergers and acquisitions’ and involves the buying, selling and combining of companies. It is often the main focus of law firms’ corporate teams.

Magic circle is the informal name given to five of the leading London-based law firms comprising Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus DeringerLinklaters and Slaughter and May.

Managing partner is the law firm equivalent of a company’s chief executive officer. He/she leads the partnership and/or management committee in running the business and devising its strategy.

Mediation is a type of dispute resolution where a disagreement is resolved with the help of a neutral third party.

Moot is a mock trial used to train or test advocacy skills.

N

Niche practice area – a practice that is specialised, such as pensions, and not in a mainstream area.

NQ stand for a newly qualified solicitor.

Outsourcing – hiring in an external organisation to perform a part of a business’ activities.

Panel comprises a group of law firms retained by a client to offer legal advice on a regular basis for a set period of time.

Paralegal is a non-lawyer, often with some legal training, who assists qualified lawyers on legal matters.

PLC stands for public limited company, which is a business listed on a stock exchange.

Power of Attorney is the legal authority to act on someone else’s behalf.

PQE stands for ‘post qualified experience’ and represents the number of months and years passed since a solicitor became fully qualified.

Pro bono comes from the Latin ‘pro bono publico’, meaning ‘for the public good’ and comprises legal work done without payment as a public service.

PEP stands for ‘profit per equity partner’ and represents the annual profit of a law firm divided by the total number of equity partners in the firm. This statistic is a key indicator of the financial health of a firm.

PSC stands for ‘Professional Skills Course’, a compulsory course taken during the training contract.

Q

Qualifying work experience is the compulsory two-year period of work-based training that must be completed by aspiring solicitors. It includes training contracts, paralegaling or a placement year on a sandwich degree.

R

Rights of audience is the right of a lawyer (either a solicitor or barrister) to appear and conduct proceedings in court.

S

Salaried partner (also known as a fixed share partner) is a partner who receives a salary but has no contractual claim on a law firm’s profits. The other type of law firm partner is an equity partner.

Seat is time spent by a trainee solicitor working in a department, usually four or six months. When a trainee moves departments this is referred to as a rotation.

Secondment is the practice of temporarily ‘lending’ trainees and qualified solicitors to a firm’s client to work in their in-house legal department for a fixed period. Many training contracts include a client secondment or a an overseas seat (also known as an overseas secondment).

Silo-ing is encouraging people to work in a specific field rather than being generalists; teams working very independently of others within a firm.

Silver circle – a group of elite London-headquartered law firms, generally considered to fall just outside the magic circle. This tends to include Ashurst, Bryan Cave Leighton PaisnerMacfarlanes and Travers Smith. Health warning: some of these firms aren’t keen on being described as silver circle so use this term with caution.

SQE stands for the ‘Solicitors Qualifying Examination’, the new compulsory two-part assessment introduced in September 2021 for all aspiring solicitors.

SRA stands for the ‘Solicitors Regulation Authority’ and is the body responsible for regulating the professional conduct of solicitors in England and Wales.

Swiss Verein is a business structure consisting of a number of discreet offices, each of which is independently liable for its own obligations.

T

Training contract is a two-year period of working in legal practice in which someone who has completed their Legal Practice Course is trained by an accredited organisation to become a qualified solicitor.

Training partner/principal is the partner who oversees the training scheme.

U

Utilisation is the metric used to measure a lawyer’s activity against the total time available to that person.

V

Vacation scheme, vac scheme or summer placement is period of paid work experience with a law firm.

Verification is the aspect of an IPO in which lawyers ensure stated information in the company’s sales pitch or prospectus is accurate.

W

White shoe firm is the name given to an elite group of law firms headquartered in New York, including Davis Polk and Sullivan & Cromwell.