Careers > Students > Legal Scoop > Law Firm Lingo
07 Aug '17

Every profession has its cryptic language. Law is no exception. When you first started school, this language was the law school vocabulary of certiorari, res judicata and statute of limitations. Now you'll need to learn the unique language that describes how a law firm actually works. Here are a few terms to learn during the law firm interview process.


360 feedback

A performance review in which the supervisee also evaluates the supervisor.


Alternative fee arrangements (AFAs)

AFAs have become increasingly popular with clients in lieu of traditional hourly billing. Examples of AFAs include:

  • Performance- or success-based fee—The law firm will be paid only if it achieves a set of clearly specified results.
  • Fixed or flat fee—A pre-defined fee charged for a specific service.
  • Task- or unit-based billing—Fees based on identified tasks or components of a transaction.
  • Percentage fee—A fee based on the value of the matter being handled, such as a loan amount or the value of real estate.
  • Blended hourly rate—A single hourly rate that is negotiated for all hours spent on a matter, regardless of whether the billing professional is a partner, associate or paralegal.
  • Fee collars—minimum and maximum parameters for hours that can be billed.


Billable hours target

A set number of hours the law firm wants you to bill each week or year. This does not mean the number of hours you spend at work, but the number of hours that are actually billed to client matters. Depending on the firm, some pro bono, training and business development hours may be included in your total billable hours for the year.

Billable rate

The dollar amount the firm bills a client for each hour of your time spent on a matter.

Business development

Also known as biz dev or BD, this is time spent learning about, keeping in touch with, pitching and otherwise pursuing new clients or matters for the firm. This may include attending conferences and events, as well as individual outreach to clients. Previously known as general networking, business development has become a far more institutionalized part of law firm life. Resources to support business development efforts can include specialized training, individual benchmarks and professional support.



Many state bar associations require a certain number of hours of Continuing Legal Education annually for you to maintain your license in good standing. CLE credits may be earned at conferences, online or through training at your firm, but the activity must be approved by your state bar to count toward the mandatory total.

Client/matter number

A number the law firm assigns to a particular client or matter to track time, documents, billing and other information. Always make sure to get this number when you receive a new assignment.

Client pitch

A presentation designed to secure new business from a client or prospect. A formal pitch will include information about the firm in general, the practice area and the lawyers that would handle the particular matter, as well as project management and fee specifics.


The final formal step in completing a transaction. This is the moment when all documents are signed and notarized, and the contract terms go into effect. (Closing also refers to an attorney's final arguments to the judge or jury at trial.)


Ethically, a law firm cannot accept a new matter if doing so would jeopardize the interests of a current client–this would result in a conflict of interest. Potential new matters are always subject to a conflicts review. Every law firm has its own process for examining and resolving potential conflicts.


Document production

A litigation term that refers to analyzing a subpoena and gathering, reviewing and organizing responsive, non-privileged materials.

Due diligence

Conducting an intensive, objective investigation into an asset to determine its value, ownership and potential liabilities. Also used colloquially to refer to research, as in, "Did you do your due diligence on that law firm before the OCI?"



Locating, securing and searching electronic data for use in litigation.



A key metric used to rank law firms, PPP refers to Profits Per Partner. It is calculated by dividing a firm's net operating income by its number of equity partners. The American Lawyer publicizes these numbers by firm each summer.

Privilege review

A component of document production and a task frequently assigned to young associates, this is a review of documents that would otherwise be turned over to the opposing party, but are protected by attorney-client or work-product privilege.



To mark up a document so it shows changes from the previous version. Also used as a noun ("Please send me the redline").

Relationship partner

A client's relationship partner is the partner tasked with making sure that all of the client's legal needs are met, either by performing, supervising or assigning legal services. The relationship partner is often the person who initially brought the client into the firm or inherited the client from a previous partner.


Request for Information. This is a request by a client or prospect to invite a proposal or pitch letter.


Term sheet

A document that sets forth the basic terms and conditions under which an agreement will be made and serves as a template for more detailed legal documents.


War room

A dedicated area where all documents, evidence and other materials related to a particular case or client crisis are assembled and maintained.