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Australian Legal Dictionary

Have you ever scratched your head and wondered what a lawyer was saying? You are not alone. Lawyers speak English but sometimes you may overhear a conversation and not be exactly sure whether or not you understood everything they have said.

Part of the problem is lawyers use many common English words but give them a special and particular meaning in the context of litigation and the dispute resolution process. To assist you to understand some of the common phrases and words, we have created this “dictionary” which you may find useful in interpreting some of the common language used by lawyers.


… is a common enough word but in the context of “legal speak” this is a set of specific instructions provided by a client to a solicitor.


… are the main stay of any solicitor’s retainer!

A solicitor should only be acting upon the instructions of their client. The nature of the relationship between a solicitor and client permits a solicitor to act in their client’s best interest even if they do not have specific instructions to cover the eventuality faced by the solicitor (perhaps because he’s on his feet in court and he’s being asked a question by a judge!).


… a client retains a solicitor.

Another common word to describe this process is “engage”. Essentially the process of a client appointing a solicitor to act for them, to advise or represent them in a court, should be clearly defined in writing to avoid any uncertainty about what the solicitor is instructed to do.

Retainers also include information such as the identity of and authorised representative of the client (if a corporation), the legal charges and the professional fees and disbursements likely to be incurred whilst carrying out the work.


… generally referred to as an action in Court.

At the commencement of “proceedings” in the Family Court, you’ll be allocated a “proceedings number”. In the State Court this used to be called the “Plaint No.” This number must be inserted on every document filed in the court in the cause of the action.


A Subpoena is a court order requiring a person not involved in the particular court proceedings to produce documents and or attend court to give evidence.

‘Conduct Money’

The money provided by the process server (who delivers the subpoena to the addressee) to cover the reasonable expenses of answering the subpoena.  If the amount is inadequate, you may consider an application to the court for more!

‘Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)’

A dispute resolution process that is an “alternative” to going to Court. It may include mediation, conciliation, expert determination, arbitration or even formalised settlement discussions.


A court order requiring a person to do or be restrained from doing certain acts or activities.

‘Anton Piller Order’

A type of order now commonly known as ‘Search Orders’ permitting a party, together with a supervising solicitor, to enter a premises and to search and seize evidence, documents and information relevant to a particular case. These types orders are often issued in fraud cases or in other circumstances where it appears that “forewarning” of the Order will result in destruction of the evidence.

‘Mareva Order’

Now known as a ‘Freezing Order’.  This is an order that prevents a person from disposing of, selling, encumbering or otherwise dealing with certain assets pending final determination of an Application or court proceedings.

‘Ex parte’

Means ‘in the absence of the other party’. Often the hearing of the application for an Anton Piller Order or Mareva Order is on an “ex parte” basis and in the absence of or without notice to the other party.

‘Legal Services Agreement / Cost Disclosure’

… lawyers in New South Wales, Australia, are required to disclose the basis by which they propose to charge for their services (if retained) and to provide an estimate of costs likely to be incurred in carrying out the work that they will be instructed to perform.

For other legal terms check out this online legal dictionary. It is American but should still help you.

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