What do legal translators need?
Thread poster: Sofia Aldazabal Wood

Sofia Aldazabal Wood
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:49
English to Spanish
Dec 21, 2015

Hello everybody,

I am looking for legal translators who would want to share their thoughts, experience and insights with me for my dissertation.
Especially if you are a newly qualified (legal) translator or you would want to specialize as a legal translator, this is for you.

I would like to know if you got a qualification as Legal translator or just as a translator

If you have some kind of "special training" as a legal translator

If not, do you think you need special training?

What do you think the 21st century expects from legal translators?

I'll be doing some follow up research about the subject. So please feel free to participate.

Thank you for your help and Happy Christmas. I hope you all have a nice mini break.



Natalia Kobzareva  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 06:49
Member (2009)
English to Russian
+ ...
My contribution Dec 22, 2015

Hello Sofia,
I have never been qualified as a translator, or a legal translator for this matter. I got my qualifications as a linguist and teacher of English and German.
However, upon my graduation I started working as a legal secretary in an English law firm (its rep office). Gradually, my exposure to the legalese increased, and since I had been taught English as my major, all I needed was terminology and some basic understanding of the way the law is applied in business and commerce.
After seven years I became a translator in another law firm, and got some "field training" with the help of my colleagues.
I am still employed as a legal translator and I appreciate my field training through direct exposure to those who draft legal texts. I believe, that if you understand the mechanics and know your native language very well (style, usage, etc.) nothing can stop you in gradually accumulating the knowledge you require.
One should also have vast general knowledge of the world, its history, geography, politics, etc. And be ready to spend time researching and looking for information.
Hope it helps.
Merry Christmas.
And good luck with your research.


Sofia Aldazabal Wood
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:49
English to Spanish
Thank you Jan 3, 2016

Hello NAtalia,

I hope you had a lovely Xmas and a great begining of 2016!
Thank you very much for replying to my post Natalia.
I find your words very useful.
Thank you again for taking the time to reply to me.

Kind regards,



Liviu-Lee Roth
United States
Local time: 22:49
Romanian to English
+ ...
Hi Sofia, Jan 4, 2016

After graduating from law school (4 years) I worked in law enforcement and practiced criminal law for 12 years.
I moved to the US and I started working as a court interpreter and translator of legal documents. I had to take several exams and obtain security clearance in order to be accepted as a translator for the Department of Justice.

I think that a legal translator needs to be familiar with both legal systems , the Civil Law (based on the Napoleonic Code) and the Common Law. It is not enough to know the meaning of words, one needs to understand the legal concept behind them.

Happy New Year!


Sofia Aldazabal Wood
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:49
English to Spanish
Thank you Liviu Jan 6, 2016

Dear Liviu,

thank you for taking part and answering my question.
And thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.
Happy 2016,


Maria S. Loose, LL.M.  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:49
German to English
+ ...
I fully agree with Liviu Jan 6, 2016

A legal translator needs to be familiar with the Common Law and the Civil Law systems, when translating between English and a European language. Although I don't know anything about Asian or African legal systems, I guess a translator translating into/from these languages would have to be familiar with the Common Law and the respective Asian/African legal system. You need to have studied comparative law in order to be able to translate legal texts correctly. This can be done by first studying one legal system in University courses and then reading books about the other legal system. I myself have studied Belgian/French/European Union law and am now reading books about the difference between the Common Law and the Civil Law system. However, even within these legal systems, there are big differences, for example between German and French law.

[Edited at 2016-01-06 19:26 GMT]


Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:49
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
The best Jan 7, 2016

liviu roth wrote:

It is not enough to know the meaning of words, one needs to understand the legal concept behind them.

The best reflection of the legal translation essesnce is what Liviu told above. Concise and straight to the point.
After moving to Portugal, I used to participate in Legal Translation workshops. Now I take courses, occasionally, in British Law, American Law or whatever I can find available online.


Mariusz Kuklinski  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:49
English to Polish
+ ...
It's like with mating hedgehogs Jan 7, 2016

It's like with mating hedgehogs, you need to proceed with a great lot of caution. On a more serious note, I am very wary of sailing too close to the terminology of the target language, precisely because similar words - "translator's false friends", may, and usually do hide very different concepts. And, unfortunately, some terms are so specific to their legal culture that they just cannot be adequately translated and need thus a descriptive translation and a reference to the original wording in a footnote. My pet hate are the English company formation documents while in Poland there's just one. And the amount of research effort can be staggering. And, please, do not confuse legal English with Legalese. They are completely different languages! Having said this, I have just treated myself to Black's Law Dictionary as a Christmas present.


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