On December 10, 2014, Proz held the 3rd Virtual Lawyer-Linguist Event, organized by Suzanne Deliscar and put together with the help of Drew MacFadyen. Panels included Lawyer-Linguists from several different countries discussing everything from the work of Lawyer-Linguists as CEOs to freelance opportunities for Lawyer-Linguists at International Organizations. Given the interest shown by participants on the subject of legal-linguistics for international organizations like the United Nations, which was the subject of my presentation, I decided to write a little recap based on the top 7 questions asked by attendees after the event.
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1. What is a Lawyer-Linguist?
If you run a quick search on the Internet, you’ll find that there are a lot of different definitions of what a lawyer-linguist is and what a lawyer-linguist does. As far as international organizations like the UN, a lawyer-linguist (LL) is not a translator with a law degree; instead, an LL is someone who can accompany his or her legal translation services with linguistic analysis, assessments and comparisons of local law versus international law.
An LL is somewhere between a translator and a lawyer; and what we do, in addition to translating documents for the UN, States or Non-State Actors is to also provide linguistic consulting services that involve comparing, analyzing and translating local law into international law. Thus, our work is as much about rendering local systems intelligible to international standards as it is about translating the language of each document.
2. What qualifications do you need to be a Lawyer-Linguist for the UN or other international actors?
Whether you are working as an in-house or freelance LL for the UN, States or Non-State Actors, you will need to meet a series of requirements:
• Law Degree
• Translation Training
• Provable Language Skills
• Provable Knowledge of Local Law
• Provable Knowledge of International Law
3. Which UN mechanisms or programs require Lawyer-Linguists?
In my personal experience, the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council (HRC) seems to be the program for which LLs are most actively required. However, many other LLs work directly for much larger programs. The areas of opportunity are very vast and there’s a lot of work out there for LLs.
4. Where do opportunities lie for Lawyer-Linguists?
This question can be easily answered with a short example from recent Latin American history, particularly Argentina, which clearly illustrates the different areas of opportunity for LLs.
Following the brutal dictatorships of the 1970s and reincorporation of democracy in the 1980s, most Latin American countries adopted a monist approach to International Law resulting in very profound changes to their local law, especially their constitutional law systems. As a result, many Latin American countries adopted “constitutional blocks.” This basically means that certain UN Treaties (usually human rights treaties) now have constitutional hierarchy in many of these countries.
Argentina specifically adopted a constitutional block in 1994, which gave constitutional hierarchy to almost all Human Rights Treaties and also gave near-constitutional status to all other UN Treaties. Thus, basically everything that comes out of the UN is above local law in Argentina specifically, and throughout most of Latin America in general. Once International Law was placed above Local Law, Latin America found itself in a constant need to translate local standards into international standards and amend local law where necessary.
As a result, Argentina has currently sanctioned a new Civil Code and is undergoing a process for reforming its Criminal Code. All these legislative changes require the work of Lawyer-Linguists. We find ourselves not only participating in International Processes like those of the UN, but also translating local mechanisms and providing linguistic consulting for the amendment and adjustment of local law to international law. This creates a broad and unique range of opportunities for Lawyer-Linguists, particularly in transitioning countries and emerging economies.
5. What is the LL market niche like?
Like any other market niche, Legal Linguistics within such systems is by definition highly specialized and very hard to capture. Clients are incredibly careful about who they work with and are reluctant to work with “outsiders.”
Academia plays a very important role in creating opportunities for capturing this market. For example, in my case, my first few government and non-state clients all contacted me directly through the University where I teach law. Almost all the clients that followed contacted me either by word of mouth from previous clients or as a result of my published works in journals and books. So, it’s a very tight little niche and when approaching these clients, it’s important to do so as an “insider.”
6. What kind of clients do you work for as a Lawyer-Linguist in the International System?
Once you find a way in, you’ll work with three main types of clients. International and state bodies, non-state actors, and private international firms that are usually doing pro bono work for non-state actors.
7. What are contracts and rates like?
Freelance Lawyer-Linguists are usually under Personal Service Contracts, which means that the agreement must follow the person with the skills at the root of the contract. In addition, your name follows your reports.
As far as rates are concerned it far easier to charge a flat rate per job than to attempt to charge per word for translation and then try to figure out fees for all the other services involved. It’s simpler to sell a single figure to a client; and these figures should contemplate how much translation is involved, how much research the job will require, what kind of report the client is requesting, what resources are being made available by the client, what resources of your own you’ll have to invest, opportunity cost, and similar factors. Your rate should combine your translation fees plus legal services.