Legal Translator Newbie Wants to Grow Up! Advice?
Thread poster: Diana Méndez

Diana Méndez  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:39
Spanish to English
Mar 27, 2013

Dear Proz,

I've been freelancing pretty informally for a while. You know, individual clients, volunteer work, a few jobs from agencies, etc. I know that a specialty is required to make one's living at this.

I want to specialize in Human Rights Law to be exact, and while I have a bit of an activist background, I've not a legal one.

How? How did YOU, wise legal translator, learn legal translation?

Sorry if the question is too general. Any help offered will be repaid in good wishes upon you and yours.


 

Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:39
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
Legal background Mar 27, 2013

Hi, I acquired some as one acquires during life but I had EU studies at university and this consists of a whole year's credit that explains EU law, so legal terms were used and explained; then I had legal components- EU consumer law, environmental law, internal market which involves a lot of law as it touches citizens' rights- rights of residence, rights to social assistance, etc, human rights credit,; law was a pillar besides the political and economic content, then I continued building and following courses, still a long way off but building my glossary in my selected language preferences. Hope this helps. I suppose we all have different stories, some go through the law course too. Gl

 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:39
Russian to English
+ ...
I worked in a law firm, took legal language courses and advanced paralegal courses Mar 27, 2013

I did legal translation in-house for a few years and litigation work -- mostly drafting pleadings and contracts under the supervision of attorneys. I also participated in multiple seminars related to legal and court interpreting. I started doing it when I was still in college, but then I really liked it, so I continued working in-house, and doing different types of translation, mostly literary, freelance.

 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:39
English to Polish
+ ...
Reading what law students read Mar 27, 2013

Hi, Simtranslator. I worked as a lawyer for a year before changing fields, actually. I've got a five-year Master's and am still in a Ph.D. programme in law, with a one-year course in American law along the way. After graduating law school, as I worked for law firms, from the get go it seemed that for the time being I was better prepared for legal translation than for actual legal work. In fact, most of my grammar school buddies went on to study classics since that's what our curriculum was supposed to prepare you for (and we did practice translation quite a lot). So I wasn't actually such a newbie when I decided to become a translator instead. I probably had it easier on a number of levels due to extensive language training in my younger days, sometimes four languages at a time, and a taste for grammar and syntax but without slavish devotion to them. This is what makes a good translator.

Now, in my view, a good legal translator first of all needs excellent and preferably perfect command of the grammar, syntax and other rules of the target but also the source language (near-perfect is a more realistic expectation, and will still do). Failure to understand complex sentences, operate conditionals and subjunctives easily, write fluently in the formal register and be comfortable with slightly archaic language, is not an option. The foregoing things just need to be crammed and rehearsed until they are your second nature. They are actually much more important than actual legal vocabulary and phrasing. Contrary to the common impression, most non-lawyer linguists have some problems in these areas rather than the typically expected strictly terminological issues. Failure to maintain the appropriate register and to understand and accurately render the intended emphasis in a sentence is quite common, too. Linguists are capable of injecting legal texts with bland, random, textbook structures that just don't work in the text or topos (place, intended purpose) of the translation, and look odd. This makes lawyers cry and many of them actually themselves translate or do a lot of proofreading and reviewing.

Once you're done with the above, I'd brush up on formal logic and syllogisms, as well as legal logic specifically, then move on to the basics of legal theory (legal theory 101 for law school firsties will do), perhaps an introduction to legal writing, a legal style guide or two, a book or three about legal interpretation (methods of construction of legal text; not interpreting in court). At least reading, once or twice, the course books for every major branch of the law you work in (e.g. international law, constitutional law, criminal law, some aspects of civil law could all be involved in human rights work), along with the most important legislation, should give you some understanding of what you're working on, as well as immersing you in the lingo, so that you can understand and use it yourself. This means a lot of reading but attending courses would take a longer time for the same knowledge. You can read at your own pace and look at it as actually learning. But I'd try to learn some theory before absorbing actual treaties, treatises, articles and so on.

Finally, and this is an attitude issue, you must be ready to accept that legal language is a valid form of expression and that a somewhat shocked linguist's sentiments (typical reaction to seeing a real contract or judicial opinion or notarial deed) don't override the collective wisdom, experience and even mere habit of legal writers accumulated over decades and centuries, in fact, in some cases, millennia. The lingo is a given, it simply is there, it must be accepted. This, however, does not mean that you can't express yourself as a linguist through legal writing. The language can be quite artful, in fact, and quite flowery. Just look at Judge Cardozo on Wikiquote (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benjamin_N._Cardozo) or opinions in verse at the U. of Washington law school's website (http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/judhumor.html). As a translator, you obviously can't transform run-of-the-mill legalese into this kind of thing (the reverse process is actually the standard in our industry, unfortunately) but there's still an outlet for all the linguistic aptitude you can muster. There's plenty enough opportunity to test yourself, do your best, set new standards for yourself and the others. I find myself learning all the time.

Okay, one last paragraph. In the long run, actually going to law school or getting an LLM degree (there should be human-rights-specific LLM degrees to choose from and some might not require a previous law degree) or qualifying as a solicitor, for example, wouldn't be a bad idea, providing you with both the best training you can get in the subject-matter of your specialist translation area (as well as allowing you to specialise in law in general, rather than 2-3 areas or aspects of it), and the best credentials you can get as far as frustrated lawyer clients are concerned. If not, just reading the obligatory intros that law firsties read and then expanding on it in your chosen fields of the law would be a good strategy. For more mundane stuff (more domestic law than international law, though, but you'll still need to learn some basics), legal thrillers are great teachers, too, and court flicks shouldn't be totally worthless, either. If you find yourself actually interested in the law and get to the point of reading high court opinions for fun (which not all lawyers can claim), you'll improve in no time without even noticing it.


 

Diana Méndez  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:39
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
You are all awesome: great advice, really. Mar 28, 2013

Thanks everyone. I've started reading up already! I will also look into paralegal studies and see what I come up with. School is just SO expensive here and I am already pursuing an MA - but anyway, THANK YOU!!!!

 


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