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Law degree wise investment for prospective legal translator?
Thread poster: travcurrit

travcurrit  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:47
Polish to English
+ ...
Nov 14, 2011

Hello,

It seems often the case that specialists in legal translation have law degrees. I can't help but wonder how the economics of this work out. Law degrees in the US are extremely expensive; can a legal translator really earn enough to pay back $40,000+ in debt? And if one already has a law degree, why not work as a lawyer? Are most legal translators full-time lawyers doing translation on the side? Is there any other route into legal translation other than a full law degree?

Thanks


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
. Nov 14, 2011

I'm not sure whether you're asking for practical advice or are just interested in the answer to your question, but getting a law degree just to become a legal translator would be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Some legal translators are current or former lawyers, but most of us are just people who have picked it up along the way. I started with contracts (which are the bread and butter of many translators) and then branched out into other areas of law. If you don't know the terminology, most of it is easy to look up on the internet.


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Ivan Rocha, CT
Canada
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Law Degree Nov 14, 2011

Travis,

I would not say a degree is essential, but it is certainly extremely useful, if one wants to become a good legal translator. There are certain nuances of a legal text that can only be captured if you have read a lot of legal literature.

I cannot say if it would be a good investment in your particular case; if you find out it is not, though, I would strongly advise you to immerse yourself in the reading of law books - everything from introduction to law to legislative and court records, plus tax law, civil law, criminal law, constitutional law, business law etc. Even though you will not translate documents from all these fields, reading about their subjects will help you enormously: you'll acquire a good grasp of legalese as a whole.

Best wishes,

Ivan


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Natalia Kobzareva  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 00:47
Member (2009)
English to Russian
+ ...
Practice makes perfect Nov 14, 2011

It seems to me that if a person is translating into his mother language, he/she should be studying his/her native law in order to translate correctly from whichever language he/she is translating, though in most cases this is English, as common law is quite popular.
In this case look for the cost of legal education in your country. It may not be so high.
And yes, I have seen linquists with the second legal education, who went back to translation. But I have seen more of those who became lawyers. But in order to become a good lawyer and earn more you have to be the best of the best, otherwise it is not worth it. At least, this is how things stand in my country.

I started by becoming a secretary with a law firm. And spent the following 10 years in this sphere working as an office employee. So I believe in practical approach. This means that at least initially you have to spend some time in an office of a law firm.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:47
Hebrew to English
No - that's the ideal - and an exception - not the rule Nov 14, 2011

I reject the idea that you have to have a degree in your specialization. I think you definitely have to have an idea of what you're talking about if you're going to translate in that field but a fully fledged law degree, no. Not only because in many cases, it is prohibitively expensive (and time consuming).

I think it helps to have maybe worked in the sector for sure.

In short, I think some dedication and self study in the appropriate areas of law and legal language is a worthwhile enough investment before considering doing another degree. As much as I loved university, I'm in no rush to go back.

There's a myriad of textbooks and readily available university readling lists out there for you to get going. This will give you enough knowledge to be able to translate (well) a typical indictment, contract, lawsuit etc.

You don't have to be a lawyer to do this. It's overkill.


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travcurrit  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:47
Polish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Nice to hear Nov 14, 2011

@Natalia -- My home country is the US, so unfortunately those would be the costs I would be dealing with. Though I have seen distance-learning legal programs from the UK that are significantly cheaper, and perhaps more useful in terms of international/EU law - but still ~7000 pounds a year, a significant investment. I see your point though that there are other routes to get hands own legal knowledge, and not all lawyers are extremely well paid.

@Ty -- That's comforting to hear. It seemed after looking around a bit that translating agencies heavily advertised the law degree credentials of their translators -- but this is probably exaggeration on their part.

I've seen some great texts on legal translation in my language pair (PL-EN), and the University of Warsaw has a 1-year weekend degree program that concentrates on legal translation. This -- self-study and a one-year max degree -- would be my ideal route to begin a career as a legal translator. I also have had my fill of university and don't want to go back for a 3-year, expensive degree any time soon.


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David Wright  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 23:47
German to English
+ ...
I do have a law degree Nov 14, 2011

and studied law cos I found it interesting, but never intended to be a lawyer (the image of a vampire just keeps coming into my mind, no idea why...). I then taught EFL for many years until I was asked to translate legal texts for a work colleague and discovered that it was an activity that I liked and the fact that I had studied law meant I actually understood what it was all about - more or less. But of course my studies were taken at a time when students studied what they were interested in and not necessarily what would give them a job - and we had grants and tuition fees were paid for us. Known as the golden age.

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:47
Hebrew to English
Good idea Nov 14, 2011

I agree that a postgraduate degree in legal translation would be far more practical than going back for another 3+ years. Unless your parents are Russian oligarchs, who can afford that these days? (Not me unfortunately!)

In truth, if I was going to spend (or get into debt actually) for tens of thousands of pounds, (again) after leaving university I'd want to go into a career which would most enable me to recoup the funds, and if we're all honest, translation doesn't hold a candle to law for income. In other words, if I was going to study law for anything, it would be for the purpose of becoming a lawyer.

As David notes, if it was the "good old days" of grants and no tuition fees, things would be very different. As it stands, you have to be realistic (and so do agencies) i.e. that qualified lawyers who also happen to be fantastic linguists/translators don't grow on trees.


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Mark Hamlen  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:47
Member (2010)
French to English
+ ...
Paralegal Nov 14, 2011

I agree that a law degree would be massive overkill in order to become a legal translator. Years and years ago I worked for a long time as a paralegal in various departments and now I have worked with legal texts for so long that I can translate them in my sleep. Also, you're not apt to do a law degree in both your target and your source languages, US practice is not a lot of help with French or Russian legal procedure, for example. Reading a lot of legal texts will help you get started (and to get a good night's sleep). Start with contracts (they are very easy) and then move on to litigation (which can at times be baffling).

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travcurrit  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:47
Polish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
thx Nov 14, 2011

Thanks for all the replies. I'm interested both in practical advice and in the general answer to the question. In fact, it's something I've wondered about many areas of translation specialty -- the experience/degree requirements I seem to recall running across in ads for medical, financial, engineering, etc translation make me wonder why anyone who truly possesses all those qualifications would not be engaging in those more lucrative careers.

(Although I surely do see David's point -- the law has always seemed quite interesting to me, and close to the studies I have been pursuing to this point in history and politics, but being a practicing lawyer never really appealed to me, with its connotations of schucksterism, not to mention the long hours and heavy debt load.)

I'm glad to hear of alternate routes into legal translation. I definitely see the need to dedicate time and energy to learning the craft of legal language and the workings of legal systems -- though without the expense and time of a legal degree. My goal would be to get a foot in (doing contracts, it looks like) in a years time and to be making a decent full-time living (meaning at least a mild step up from my current, grad-student-stipend standards) in 2-3 years. To fill gaps in the meantime it looks like searching for work in legal contexts would be a good tactic (time to research another question: what exactly is a paralegal and how does one become one... : )


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Orla Ryan  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 22:47
Market research Nov 14, 2011

I think it very much depends on the clientele you ultimately want to reach. For example, if you want to translate legal texts for the European Union institutes or European Court of Justice, then they would want people to have a legal qualification plus a certain amount of translation experience. Such projects are hard; you would definitely need the background expertise.

Depending on the kind of legal translations you want to do, maybe you don't need to undertake a full legal degree? Perhaps you qualify for module exemptions for certain legal courses or you could look into a legal language course for your source language as a taster?


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Jessica Noyes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:47
Spanish to English
+ ...
One course Nov 15, 2011

Good point, Orla. Lots of American universities allow outsiders to come in and take one or two courses, for a fee. Two that were offered where I last taught were business law and education law, within their respective departments.

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Hi guys Mar 5, 2012

I've just found this post while I was looking for some information about law degree people who want to become translator. I'm not talking about lawyers ('cause you must have a certification for that qualification) but people who have a law degree and want to work in the translation field.
I'm one of them. I'm italian and I'm studying law in my country in order to have a strong background and be able to know what I'm going to translate. So I think yes, it's worthwile to have a law degree for legal translation careericon_smile.gif
Anyway, anyone has tips about a good master in legal translation? Anywhere in the world..
and sorry for my english! I have to study and study and study. Thank you!


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:47
German to English
+ ...
Paralegal +1 Mar 5, 2012

Financial translation has been my main specialty for quite a while, and of course that often intersects with legal. When I decided I wanted to take on more legal translations, I went through the same thought process as you. I am in the US where, as you said, higher education is very expensive, and I already have a master's in translation paid off - not eager to take on more loans. The option I chose was enrolling first in a short course in legal translation (8 weeks - just happened to be available in my area when I wanted to take it, with a prominent legal translator teaching to boot) and then in a paralegal certificate program at my local college. The paralegal certificate is quite practical and much less expensive than a full degree. I'm about halfway through now. Some programs are online, but many colleges in larger urban areas have their own certificate programs.

BTW, in the US there is no one official definition of "paralegal," and there are two professional associations, NALA and other one I can't think of off the top of my head - maybe Mark knows more. They also offer their own certification.


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Monika Mikina
Poland
Local time: 23:47
Polish to German
+ ...
postgraduate degree is good as a start Oct 12, 2012

travcurrit wrote:

I've seen some great texts on legal translation in my language pair (PL-EN), and the University of Warsaw has a 1-year weekend degree program that concentrates on legal translation. This -- self-study and a one-year max degree -- would be my ideal route to begin a career as a legal translator. I also have had my fill of university and don't want to go back for a 3-year, expensive degree any time soon.


Hi, I just came across the thread you posted almost a year ago - but if you're still interested: I attended the 1-year weekend legal translation degree programme at the University of Warsaw - already a few years ago - and I must say that for me it was just a start. It was really helpful and definately informative as I did not have much experience with legal translations before but it only helped to get an overall knowledge of the law. And, as in many other areas, it turned out that the law itself is quite immense and it's best to concentrate on one of it's areas if you want to be really good. I chose tax law as I got employed by a tax consulting company. So for me both studying and practice helped.


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