The qualities and skills of a legal translator
Legal translators work on some of the most sensitive and important documents to be found in any given organisation and are tasked with delivering exceptional results in line with some exacting demands.
As a whole, they have to ensure that the meaning of one piece of text is accurately conveyed as much in a new language. Moreover, every nuance of the original document has to be captured and repurposed – without any loss of integrity – so that it is understood, legally speaking, in the target language. It's a serious job that is challenging but extremely rewarding.
In this piece, we take a closer look at some of the qualities and skills legal translators need to possess.
The profile of a legal translator
Legal translators, more often than not, are commissioned to translate technical and complex documents into their native language. This is an important point to be aware of because native speakers of a language tend to have a better understanding and knowledge of their primary vernacular than those for whom it is a second language.
Though a graduate degree or masters in law or a language is not a prerequisite qualification for a legal translator, it does carry authority. That said, a background and expertise in the two areas cited above is essential because, simply put, legal translation is not a vocation you can casually fall into. Accordingly, a passion and genuine interest in these subjects is a welcome asset.
Core attributes expected of a legal translator
Legal translators need to possess an ability to quickly absorb, comprehend and engage with complex texts and effectively deliver accurate solutions in line with criteria.
They also need to work well under pressure, as a lot of assignments that come through can be last minute with clients keen on a quick turnaround. As we noted in our feature on the challenges of legal translation, this is, by no means, easy going.
There is a lot of risk associated, after all, with mistranslating legal documents, even those that have been, in the original text, written out in as clear a manner as possible and with full consideration of the law. There can never be any room for ambiguity.
Specific skills that legal translators have
Legal translators possess a commanding knowledge of their native tongue and an equally robust level of authority with a second language. This you can attribute as being a language specific skill-set (and implied in all of this is the ability to write clear, grammatically correct text).
In terms of thematic skills, a high level of expertise in legal matters is, as a rule, required, especially in the legal systems of at least two countries. While there are many overlaps between nations in terms of their respective bodies of law, there are significant differences too.
Specialist knowledge of certain branches of the legal system is also helpful, as this ensures an even greater level of expertise with regards to certain areas of law. By its very nature, it's an expansive discipline and thus, the more legal translators know about a particular area, the more confident clients can be in the quality and accuracy of the final document.
Additionally, being able to contextualise legalese between the two systems is suggestive of a knowledge base that is extensive and up-to-date. It is this richness that allows meaning to be properly passed from one language to another, with no loss in translation.
An invaluable resource
It should be clear from the above that legal translators have a distinct skill-set that reinforces why they are such an asset. Consider, for example, that they have to be excellent writers in at least two languages, possess an understanding of two legal systems and be able to act as a bridge between the two and you can appreciate the value they offer all types of organisations. In an increasingly globalised world, they're going to be increasingly important.