The Most Difficult Terms In Legal Transcription

Difficult terms in legal transcription range from seemingly straightforward phrases like “in camera” to more complex ones such as “voir dire.” It is crucial for lawyers and law school students to become proficient in these terms. By extension, those working in the legal field, like legal transcription services, must also be experts in legal terms if they want to provide their clients with accurate transcripts. 

Though missing a word or two doesn’t seem like a big deal, legal transcription requires pinpoint precision. Otherwise, evidence can be thrown out, and statements can be misinterpreted, leading to the unintentional perversion of the justice system. 

In this article, you’ll learn how: 

  • Legal transcription often involves transcribing words and phrases that are extremely difficult to understand or differentiate from other, more common terms.
  • Despite the inherent difficulty, legal transcriptionists must be able to deliver high accuracy levels. Inaccurate transcription often leads to ugly consequences for the lawyer, law firm, and transcription company. 
  • Ditto Transcript’s 100% human, US-based transcription is the best way to avoid inaccuracies due to complex legal terms. Our transcriptionists know legalese and jargon through their vast working experience in the field. 

Let’s start off easy with the most common legal terms, which you typically hear in courtroom dramas and similar programs. 

Legal TermDescriptionExample of Use
PlaintiffThe person who brings a case against another in a court of law.“The plaintiff sued for damages resulting from the car accident.”
DefendantAn individual, company, or institution sued or accused in a court of law.“The defendant was ordered to provide evidence of their compliance by next month.”
SubpoenaA document that orders someone to court or requires the submission of evidence.“The court issued a subpoena to the company demanding the submission of financial records.”
TestimonyA formal spoken or written statement given in a court.“During the trial, the witness’s testimony was crucial to establishing the timeline of events.”
VerdictThe decision is given by a jury or judge resolving a dispute.“After deliberating for hours, the jury returned a guilty verdict.”
An image depicting one word that means two different things

Now that we’ve completed the easy ones, let’s move on to the hardest legal terms to transcribe. 

Pari passu

Pari passu is a term that indicates that two or more assets, securities, creditors, or obligations are managed on equal footing. 

  • Example usage: In the restructuring agreement, the company’s outstanding bonds were to be treated pari passu, meaning that each bondholder would receive an equal percentage of any repayment, ensuring that no creditor received preferential treatment over another.

Qui tam

Qui tam refers to the law that allows private individuals to file lawsuits on behalf of the document. It is short for qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur or “he who brings an action for the king as well as for himself.”

  • Example usage: Under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act, the whistleblower filed a lawsuit against the healthcare provider, alleging that they had fraudulently overcharged Medicare. 

Petit jury

Petit jury means a small jury of twelve people instead of a grand jury. It can be mistaken for “pet injury.” 

  • Example usage: The petit jury deliberated for several hours before reaching a unanimous verdict.

Prima facie

Prima facie is a Latin term meaning “on its face” or “at first glance,” used to describe the establishment of a legally required rebuttable presumption.

  • Example usage: The evidence presented was prima facie enough to warrant further investigation.

Sui generis

Sui generis is a Latin phrase that means “of its own kind.” It refers to a unique legal classification. The latter half of the term can be misconstrued as “so generous.” 

  • Example usage: The artist’s unconventional style was sui generis, making their work instantly recognizable.

Pendente lite

Pendente lite is a term for an undecided or pending court matter that can be misheard as “pendant light.” 

  • Example usage: The court issued a temporary restraining order pendente lite, preserving the status quo until the case could be fully resolved.

Nolo contendere

Nolo contendere is a type of plea used in court that means the defendant is not or will no longer contend the charge. It differs from pleading guilty, though it is considered similar during sentencing. It can be misheard as “no low contender.”

  • Example usage: The defendant entered a plea of nolo contendere, neither admitting nor denying guilt but accepting punishment.

Inter alia

Inter alia means “among other things” and is typically used as “etc.” in a legal setting. It can be misheard as “enter Aliah.” 

  • Example usage: The contract outlined the responsibilities of both parties, including, inter alia, payment terms, and delivery schedules.

Ultra vires

Ultra vires is a term that describes any action taken by corporations or governments that goes beyond their mandate or authority. It sounds exactly the same as “ultra virus.” 

  • Example usage: The company’s actions were deemed ultra vires, exceeding its legal authority as outlined in its charter.

In camera

Though pronounced exactly the same as the English “in camera,” this Latin version means “in the chamber,” or essentially, “in private.” The term denotes reviewing something without the presence of the public or press. 

  • Example usage: The judge decided to hold the hearing in camera, excluding the public and the press from the courtroom.

Voir dire

Voir dire is an Old French word for a preliminary examination of a witness or a juror. Typically done by a judge or counsel, it sounds like “vore dear” or even “for dear” in low-quality audio. 

  • Example usage: Potential jurors were questioned during the voir dire process to determine their suitability for the trial.


Quash means to throw out or consider invalid or canceled. It can be misheard as “squash.” 

  • Example usage: The judge decided to quash the subpoena, ruling it invalid and unenforceable.

Motion in Limine

Motion in limine means a pretrial motion asking the presiding judge to exclude specific arguments or evidence from trial proceedings. A judge typically decides the motion, which can be misheard as “motion eliminate.” 

  • Example usage: The defense attorney filed a motion in limine to exclude certain evidence from the trial.


Certiorari means an order or writ that allows a higher court to review the decisions of a lower court. The word sounds extremely like “Sure, see you, Harry.” 

  • Example usage: The Supreme Court granted certiorari, agreeing to review the lower court’s decision.

De jure

De jure is a term that means “of law.” The phrase pertains to legal practices and legally recognized or legitimate proceedings. The term can be misheard as “the jury,” especially with a lilting accent. 

  • Example usage: The law established the de jure rights of citizens, ensuring equal treatment under the constitution.

Aside from most of them being Latin, the common causes of legal transcription errors can be rooted in one of the following aspects: 

  • Homophones: two different words with the same pronunciation
  • Low audio quality: issues with compression or recording devices
  • Human error: straightforward errors made during transcription
  • Unfamiliarity with the field or language: transcribers still in training or essentially punching above their weight class
  • Misheard phrases: mostly due to rushing

As you can see from the previous examples, it can be easy to mishear certain terms and phrases and transcribe them incorrectly. Some of these terms are obscure and difficult to understand, making legal transcription more challenging. 

Complex terminology notwithstanding, legal documents used for any legal proceeding require accuracy. Otherwise, the side that presents mistranscribed evidence faces the potential consequences of inaccurate transcripts, such as: 

  • Misinformation Spread
  • Loss Of Credibility
  • Impacted Decision-Making
  • Legal Ramifications
  • Ethical Consequences
  • Wasted Resources
  • Damage to Reputation And Relationships

Ditto Transcripts have been working with law firms for over a decade, and believe me when I say we know what we’re doing. 

Our legal transcriptionists have comprehensive experience in the field. They know their way around a legal conversation and can even run rings around the most experienced lawyers. Legalese isn’t an issue when you have thousands of hours of collective work experience listening and transcribing audio recordings.

Furthermore, our transcriptionists are 100% US-based, meaning they know the language inside and out. No worrying about things being taken out of context; everything will be transcribed as it should be. 

One more thing: our legal transcribers are all human. They can understand nuance and context to a degree that no AI transcription platform or solution can match. As a result, when working with the legal industry, we find manual transcription best.

Infact, our transcriptionists are so good that we can guarantee more than 99% accuracy for all legal transcription projects. Our services are unmatched by the measly 86% accuracy of the top automated transcription software. 

So, choose Ditto, and rest easy knowing that all transcripts are accurate and ready for use in any court proceedings. 

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Understanding legalese and complex legal terms in audio recordings doesn’t have to be your headache. Outsource your legal transcription to Ditto and experience the difference. Get accurate, high-quality transcripts on time, every time. 

Ditto Transcripts is a CJIS-compliant Denver, Colorado-based transcription services company that provides fast, accurate, and affordable transcripts for individuals and companies of all sizes. Call (720) 287-3710 today for a free quote, and ask about our free five-day trial.

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