Chartered Institute
of Linguists

Progressing your career as a legal translator

A review of CIOL’s Translation Division event by Irene Corchado Resmella

A successful event ticking all the boxes

I believe the three key elements that make an event are great speakers, a practical approach and time for questions and discussion. The event, given by CIOL’s Translating Division, ticked all three boxes. 

The presenters, Sue Leschen, Richard Lackey and Maeva Cifuentes, are knowledgeable, experts in their field, and shared what only years of experience can provide.

The practical approach offered by this event included advice, do’s and don’ts, real examples and personal anecdotes, leaving us with a head full of ideas and a notebook full of notes of things we can put into practice.

They shared tons of tips, suggestions and good practices related to anything from the common problems which arise in legal translation to the role of the translator when interpreting the meaning in a legal text, and when to use footnotes. In addition, the afternoon session included two practical exercises related to briefings and stylistic differences.


Questions and discussion 

The event provided plenty of room for questions and discussion. The presentations kept the audience engaged at all times, asking numerous questions and sharing opposing views on different topics. The questions unfortunately ran into Sue Leschen’s presentation time which meant she could deliver only the first one of her two presentations. (Her second presentation has since been sent to attendees.)

In the two practical sessions, we started by discussing exercises in groups, and then sharing outcomes between groups.


Presentations overview

In her presentation, expert lawyer-linguist Sue Leschen started off by defining what legal translation is and what it is not. The piece of advice she offered translators was to carefully analyse any text you receive for quotation before taking on the job. Do not simply scan it, or assume that a few pages offer a good overview of the whole text; don’t assume that the client has read the text, or can distinguish legal texts from other types of texts. (As an example from my own work, despite wills being the most common legal texts I work with, I often encounter terms unknown to me from other fields - people bequeath the strangest things! I recently translated an English will including a few furniture and fashion-related terms I had never seen before.)

The afternoon session was presented by Richard Lackey and Maeva Cifuentes – both legal translators specialising in contracts. They started off their session by talking about choosing a style when translating this type of documents into English. There are two very differentiated styles – a more formal and old-fashioned one, and one that follows the principles of plain English. Consistency is key in legal translation, so it is important to choose one and stick to it.

The introductory talk was followed by two practical exercises: one was to define a brief and make style choices; the other was to analyse stylistic differences between two translations of a complex contract.

The session concluded with Maeva and Richard presenting the results of their research on the translator’s role in legal register, followed by practical tips on translating contracts and a list of useful reads for legal translators.



Below, I share a list of takeaways from the event taken from the talks, from the discussions and from Sue’s second presentation slides, sprinkled with some personal good practices of mine.

Key elements for becoming a specialist legal translator

  • Legal language knowledge in your source language.
  • Legal language knowledge in your target language.
  • Knowledge of the legal system and procedures in your source language.
  • Knowledge of the legal system and procedures in your target language.
  • Specialised knowledge of one or several areas of the Law in your source language.
  • Specialised knowledge of one or several areas of the Law in your target language, especially when the legal systems differ.
  • Knowledge of the specific types of text you work with.

Tips for accessing premium market legal translation assignments

  • Get formal legal qualifications.
  • Get formal linguistic qualifications.
  • The Law changes, and so does legal languages. Make sure you take CPD activities on a regular basis to keep yourself updated.
  • Go where legal professionals go: court, legal trade fairs, networking groups, etc.
  • Go where fellow legal translators go: translation training, CPD events, co-working sessions, etc.

Good legal translation practices

  • Check the entire text before accepting a project.
  • Aim for accurate terminology, consistency and the correct register.
  • When the text is non-exclusively legal, consider sharing the project with another competent colleague.
  • Make sure you have the client’s permission, before sharing a project with another translator.
  • Check with your direct clients who you can contact, if queries arise.
  • Use footnotes cautiously. Avoid too explicative footnotes and the risk of mistake.
  • Cover yourself. Make sure you put anything agreed and said over the phone in writing, so you have something to fall back on, if there are any problems.
  • At the start of a long-term collaboration with direct clients, check whether a brief is available. Or work with the client to create one.

Practical tips for translating contracts

  • Create a style guide.
  • Incorporate style preferences into your own glossary.
  • Make the most of model agreements.
  • Get your work reviewed by a trusted colleague.
  • Lexis Nexis is a useful tool.
  • It may be a good idea to include a disclaimer clause in your service terms mentioning that all translations are an interpretation.

This was the first CIOL event I have attended since becoming a member in 2016. It proved to be high-quality, engaging and productive. Not only did it attract legal translators at every step of their career but also several solicitors working in different jurisdictions. This created a good, lively and interesting debate throughout the presentations. Attendees were friendly and open to chat and exchange ideas, opinions and business cards. As a result, I am now in contact with a good number of colleagues, one of whom sent me a project already. A very successful event all in all, I would say!


About the author

Irene Corchado Resmella is an Oxford-based English-Spanish translator and content writer working as ICR Translations. A Chartered Linguist, Irene’s main working field is sworn and legal translation. She holds a CILEx Level 6 Certificate in Law (Wills and Succession) and is currently completing a Diploma-level course in Spanish Succession Law. She combines translation with travel content writing and is an active blogger at Piggy Traveller and The Curiolancer. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.