How to develop a specialization in legal translation?
Thread poster: Sofia Aldazabal Wood

Sofia Aldazabal Wood
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:36
English to Spanish
Dec 16, 2015

How to develop a specialization in legal translation?

Hello everybody,

I started working on my dissertation, and this is basically my research question:

How to develop a specialization in legal translation? Beginnings in this particular field.

So for all of you out there who would like to help me and participate in this interesting project, please contact me with ideas, comments, suggestions or personal experiences.

I would like to know iif you can share your experience, thoughts or comments:

1- What are the most difficult aspects in legal translation? (terminology, culture, false friends, etc)

2- Are there any useful tools we can resort to? (CAT tools, glossaries, dictionaries to mention some).

3- Tips and advice.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences.

Thank you very much in advance,



Anders O.  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:36
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Sworn Dec 16, 2015

1. Not so much the terminology (with the right skills and dictionaries), but the syntax can often be frustratingly painstaking

2. CAT tools definitely. In legal translation, paragraphs etc. often occur multiple times in a document. Once you have figured out a difficult term, you can save it to the translation memory, saving you lots of time and effort.

You should also have access to a copy of the law book of both the source and the target language.

3. I don't know how it is in the UK, but where I come from, Norway, all translators need to be sworn (government authorized) to do legal translation domestically. It requires a three year education, or a language education combined with a translator exam.

I believe you should be sworn to do legal translation. I decline all job offers in the legal category.


Natalia Postrigan  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:36
Member (2016)
English to Russian
+ ...
Consistency and precision Dec 16, 2015

Anders O. wrote:
2. CAT tools definitely. In legal translation, paragraphs etc. often occur multiple times in a document. Once you have figured out a difficult term, you can save it to the translation memory, saving you lots of time and effort.

^ I completely agree. And it also illustrates one of the challenges - to be consistent using the repetitive terminology.

Might sound trivial, but the legal field offers no room for ambiguity. In many other fields you as a translator can, to a varying degree, get away with "saying it in your own words", or interpreting the source. But not in the legal field, naturally. At the same time, you also cannot go word-for-word (not always), because in many languages there already is a solid body of legal terminology formed over a long time that you have to be familiar with and use consistently. Hence the challenge: find the balance between being precise and true to the source yet not sound foreign to the target language.

How do people get in this field: besides what Anders mentioned above, sometimes people start as paralegals, get well familiar with the terminology, and later transition into a career in translation. In my home country it used to be that paralegals would frequently be hired from the ranks of Linguistics, English or other Foreign Languages majors, so no wonder that many later find themselves as professional translators.


Steven Segaert
Local time: 00:36
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Get a law degree Dec 17, 2015

I'm a lawyer-turned-translator myself.

Apart from what Natalia indicates - in legal text, a rose is a rose and not a flower, one needs to understand that legal systems in different localities are also different. The word "summons", for example, might have a nice dictionary translation; the functions and effects of a summons in the legal system of the source language may however be very different from the functions and effects in the legal system of the target language - thus making the dictionary translation wrong in a given context.

If one does not have the background to understand these differences, one inevitably will make mistakes.

Another example: I translate to Dutch, but Dutch is used (primarily) in both the Netherlands and Belgium. The legal systems of these countries are however quite different, so the first question to ask is what, or who, the translation is to serve.

This aspect is often overseen. It is also less important in "low-end legal translations" such as Terms and Conditions or Policies, where the wording is usually rather general, doesn't refer to specific legislation, or where it is stipulated that the translation is merely there to inform (with the original text constituting the binding text). In these types of materials, mistakes are less consequential. As a result, clients seem to be keen on outsourcing them at rates that are equal to "general conversation" text.

But in "high-end legal translations", the ability to make abstraction of your own legal system and to compare legal systems structurally and objectively, is crucial. It takes a specialist to do this, more than a dictionary or a CAT-tool.

The observation that legal text often consists of convoluted sentences is, in my mind, less of an issue. Some text is well-written, other materials are not. Long sentences that are well-written have structure, and with an understanding of what they are trying to say, they are not all that hard to figure out.


Anja Schuck  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:36
Member (2013)
Italian to German
+ ...
How to develop a specialization in legal translation? Dec 17, 2015

As far as I'm concerned, I studied law and passed the bar exam first in Germany and then in Italy.

The translation from Italian into German is easier than from English into German.
Italy and Germany have similar legal traditions (civil law legal tradition), whereas law in England, Wales, the US differs widerly from Germany law (common law). There are legal concepts which are unknown in the civil law tradition and vice versa. In this case you might leave the expression in the source language and put the explanation into brackets. However, a decision to be taken from time zu time.

I use Black's Law Dic. and books about comparativ law for English as well as normal legal dictionaries.

CAT-tools are definitely useful. I created my own TM for both language pairs. Anyway, an acquired word might not always be the right one. A guaranty is not always a Garantie in German. It dipends...

[Modificato alle 2015-12-17 07:32 GMT]


Sofia Aldazabal Wood
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:36
English to Spanish
Thank you Dec 17, 2015

Just to say a big thank you for all of you who have replied to my post!

Some very interesting points:

Terminology: it doesn't seem to be a big problem, although you are working with different legal systems.

End user: another big factor to take into account.

CAT tools: they seem to be useful for this kind of translations.

Precision and lack of ambiguity are key.

Law degree seems to be extremely helpful.

Thank you again to all of you for taking the time to write your thoughts, comments and experiences!



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