Skip to main content

15 Legal or Law Idioms Explained to ESL Learners

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
Read on to learn about 15 law- and legal-related English idioms. These will help ESL learners become more familiar with conversational English.

Read on to learn about 15 law- and legal-related English idioms. These will help ESL learners become more familiar with conversational English.

What Is an Idiom?

Idioms or idiomatic expressions are one of the toughest English topics to master for many English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. These expressions can be quite complicated.

Most of the time, the individual meanings of the words that make up idioms do not add up to create their unique, total, and real meanings. In many cases, it is almost ridiculous to try and guess their definitions. We just have to look up their meanings in dictionaries such as Merriam- Webster or Collins.

To make things even more complicated, there are idioms relating to legal matters or the law, topics that are already filled with jargon that even native English speakers cannot easily understand.

Legal- or law-related idioms, however, are commonly used in the English language as English speakers, just like many other groups of people from around the world, frequently talk about peace and order, justice, redress, crimes, and offenses.

To help out ESL learners, this article discusses some of the most common English idiomatic expressions about law and legal matters and provides a little explanation about them.


1. With no strings attached

6. Legal age

11. Due process or due process of law

2. Turn a blind eye to

7. Last will and testament

12. Cease and desist

3. Take the law into one's own hands

8. Invasion of privacy

13. Contempt of court

4. Null and void

9. Grace period

14. Burden of proof

5. Lodge a complaint

10. Fine print

15. Beyond a reasonable doubt

1. With No Strings Attached

Something comes with no strings attached if we can get it without having to do anything in return. In short, we are not under any obligations to do any actions for anyone at any point in time after getting that thing. That thing comes for free.


She volunteered her time and talent with no strings attached.

2. Turn a Blind Eye To

A person is turning a blind eye to something or someone if they see something wrong or suspicious but pretend not to see anything. Turning a blind eye is an act of omission, which means not performing the actions that are expected of most people.


He turned a blind eye to the dying dog that had been hit by a car while crossing the street.

3. Take the Law Into One's Own Hands

People who try to take the law into their own hands are trying to seek justice on their own. They do not ask for help from authorities or people who can legally administer the law. Taking the law into one’s own hands is generally regarded as illegal.


Out of contempt, she took the law into her own hands and shot her cheating husband.

4. Null and Void

Something is null and void if it has already been canceled and is now invalid. Being canceled, that thing is redundant and worthless.


The court case brought against the company was null and void. The company had already settled the lawsuit out of court.

5. Lodge a Complaint

We lodge a complaint if we are formally making a complaint against someone, a group, or an organization. We usually lodge a complaint in a court of law or a government office.


Villagers lodged a complaint against the owners of a mine that polluted the river.

When somebody has reached legal age, they can vote, drive, buy cigarettes, drink alcohol, and/or gamble. After reaching legal age, people are expected to be fully responsible for their actions. They become liable to the law.


These kids cannot buy alcohol. They are obviously below the legal age.

7. Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament is a legal document that a person creates before dying. It specifies what they want to do with their assets after death. It may also contain their notes dedicated to friends, family, and associates.


The duchess did not leave any last will and testament. Now her kids are fighting over her massive wealth.

8. Invasion of Privacy

An action is an invasion of privacy if it makes someone lose their right to confidentiality, personal space, and time. Invasion of privacy is considered a legal offense and is thus punishable by law.


The paparazzo was charged with invasion of privacy after he snapped pictures of an exposed actress sunbathing beside her mansion’s pool.

9. Grace Period

A grace period is the period of time that immediately comes after a deadline for paying a bill. Normally, we can pay a bill without interest and penalties during a grace period, which usually runs for about 30 days.


The company was kind enough to give us a 30-day grace period to pay our credit card bill.

10. Fine Print

Fine print refers to an important part of a document that is written in fine or small text. Because it is written in small text, fine print is sometimes overlooked or ignored.


She did not realize that she had to pay 75% monthly interest for her loans until she read the fine print of the contract.

11. Due Process or Due Process of Law

Due process refers to the legal procedures that must be followed to protect the rights of an accused person. Not going through due process is considered a violation of the civil liberties of the accused.


Everyone is entitled to due process. Even a murder trial can be complicated by a mishandling of due process.

12. Cease and Desist

The idiom cease and desist means to stop immediately and permanently. Separately, cease means to stop, and desist means not to restart.


The owners were given a cease and desist order to stop operating their sex shop.

13. Contempt of Court

If someone violates court rules or disregards court processes, then they can be cited for contempt of court.


The woman was cited for contempt of court for coming in too late for the trial and wearing revealing clothes.

14. Burden of Proof

When somebody has the burden of proof, then he or she is required to present evidence to prove his or her claims.


He has the burden of proof after scores of boys came out to testify against him.

15. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

If something is beyond a reasonable doubt, then there is enough evidence to prove that thing to be true. For example, if an accused person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, then it means that there is sufficient evidence to prove that they have done something wrong.


The jury found the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of over 45 counts of sexual assault.

Crime and Police Idioms

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 kerlynb


Dianna Mendez on June 27, 2012:

Interesting hub. Great design on the content with good descriptions on the terms for ESl learners.

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on June 26, 2012:

Thanks for this, nicely set out and very clear definitions. Legal jargon can be a nightmare but you have simplified it - beneficial for all students - which has got be a good thing.

ramerican on June 25, 2012:

good. will share with my students!