Lay Understanding of Civil Law Terminology in Japan

  • Mami Hiraike OkawaraEmail author
  • Hajime Nishiguchi


Perhaps more than most professions, law depends on a corpus of specialized terms of art that are familiar to the practitioners who use them regularly in legal contexts but less familiar to lay people. Apart from the importance of enhancing transparency and public access for a key domain, making legal terms understandable to non-professionals may be crucial when non-professionals are involved in legal processes, such as civil litigation. However, simplifying terms risks changing their meaning, while explaining them in plain language entails the difficulty of assessing how much of the legal content lay people need or are prepared to know. An initial step to making legalese more understandable to non-lawyers is to evaluate what lay people actually understand by the terms they come across, and so this study compared the responses of lay participants when asked about key terms form the Japanese Civil Code with the definitions and explanations given by a legal expert. One of the key findings that emerged was that there is particular difficulty with terms that lay people have some understanding of because of their use in non-legal contexts. It will be argued that supplying some background in legal theory would help facilitate educating the public about the legal meaning of terms.


Civil law Lay understanding Legal terms Text analysis 



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Takasaki City University of EconomicsTakasakiJapan
  2. 2.Lex Law FirmChibaJapan

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