Misusing a word can be embarrassing (looking at you, person who says “irregardless”) but misusing a legal term when you work in the legal industry can actually harm your career. This is especially true if you are applying for a new job in the legal profession, whether it be an associate, paralegal, or legal secretary at a Florida law firm. Using appropriate terms and phrases is incredibly important since it presents you as a knowledgeable and perceptive candidate.
Below is a list of some of the most commonly misused words in the legal industry. If you’ve used the wrong word in the past, that’s alright. Brush it off and push forward with a renewed appreciation for proper terminology.
Misused Word No. 1 – “Due” Diligence vs. “Do” Diligence
This is a very common mistake that appears in resumes, cover letters, legal memorandums, and even court pleadings. To be clear, “due diligence” is a legal term meaning someone is going to conduct an investigation into a matter before entering into a contractual relationship or approving a business agreement. People mistakenly use “do diligence” thinking that it literally means doing something diligently. This is incorrect.
Misused Word No. 2 – Ensure vs. Insure
Ensure is a term used to indicate that you made sure of a fact or situation. When you insure something, it means you are guarding against a particular loss. Insure may be appropriate to use when discussing an insurance contract. Ensure is used to provide assurance that something was done or confirmed.
Misused Word No. 3 – Moot vs. Mute
Want to torpedo the chances of landing a legal job? Write that a matter is a mute point in your cover letter or writing sample. To be clear, a moot point is the term most often utilized in legal writing. It refers to an issue that is not determinative of the outcome of a matter. In contrast, the word “mute” refers to something that is unspoken. Most people use it when complaining about the lack of sound emanating from their television or laptop.
Misused Word No. 4 – Imminent vs. Eminent
This is a more nuanced mistake, but it occurs with regularity. The word “eminent” is used to describe someone or something that is well-known and respected within a particular field or profession. For example, Jeffrey Toobin is generally considered to be an eminent legal scholar. The word “imminent” means that something is about to occur.
Misused Word No. 5 – Emigrate vs. Immigrate
This is another fairly complex mistake, so don’t feel too bad if you’ve confused emigrate and immigrate. The term “emigrate” is used in connection with describing where someone is from. In contrast, the word “immigrate” is used in connection with “to” meaning where someone is going.
Misused Word No. 6 – Forego vs. Forgo
The word “forego” is meant to describe something that comes before or precedes in time or place. In contrast, the word “forgo” means you are declining, omitting or rejecting something. For example, you forgo eating chocolate in the spring to prepare for summer beach weather.
Misused Word No. 7 – Imply vs. Infer
The word “imply” means something is not expressly communicated but is rather subtly suggested. The word “infer” means an individual hears or reads something and interprets the statement to mean something. Here is a good example: you read an email from a junior partner at your law firm and infer that you should come into the office on Columbus Day.
Misused Word No. 8 – Principle vs. Principal
This is a big mistake that pops up with troubling frequency, especially in drafts of important business contracts and real estate agreements. To be clear, the word “principle” is used to describe a fundamental truth or proposition. In contrast, a “principal” is oftentimes a named party in a business transaction (or it can be someone who oversees a high school). A good way to remember this distinction is the fact that principal ends in “pal.” This should help remind you that a principal is an actual person and a principle is usually a thing or theory (e.g., a legal principle of nondiscrimination).
Misused Word No. 9 – Farther vs. Further
It is quite common for a paralegal, secretary, or attorney to use these words interchangeably, which is a mistake. The word “farther” should be used when you are referring to a physical distance. The word “further” should be used when you are describing a specific time or distance in a metaphorical sense.
Misused Word No. 10 – Attain vs. Obtain
The word “obtain” means you are acquiring something. The word “attain” means you achieved a goal or objective.
Misused Word No. 11 – Proscribe vs. Prescribe
Another important one to get right in the legal world. To “proscribe” means to forbid, but the word “prescribe” means to administer, advocate, charge, command, decide, decree, demand, or issue and order.
So how can you remember the difference? How about remembering the ‘o’s: the “o” in proscribe matches with prohibit, taboo, and outlaw, while prescribe is like a prescription… the doctor issues an order for some medicine.
Misused Word No. 12 – Cue vs. Queue
The word “queue” is used to describe placing someone or something into a schedule or particular process. For example, if you are standing in a line, you are in a queue. If you are scheduling a conference call with a client, you are “queuing up” the client or placing the client “in the queue”. Do not use the word “cue” unless you are describing a pool stick or referring to an actor saying their line.