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Top Five Considerations for Becoming a Legal Translator

600-300-Jan-29-2021-06-42-15-05-PMTranslation can be an exciting career that allows you to translate a wide range of content on a variety of topics. Legal translation specializes in the translation of legal documents, such as depositions, contracts and patent applications, from one language to another. But unlike general translation, there are unique concerns that can impact translations in the legal field that someone becoming a legal translator will need to know about.

In this blog post, we cover the five most important considerations of becoming a legal translator.

Language expertise

To become a legal translator, you need to be fluent in at least two languages. This goes beyond the conversational English or Spanish students learn in high school. It requires a deep understanding of both languages, including grammar, syntax and word choice.

Sometimes translators benefit from growing up in bilingual households. This can provide the necessary background in understanding language that is needed for high-quality translation. However, even if you did not grow up speaking two languages, it is still possible to gain enough fluency and expertise in a foreign language to become a professional legal translator.

Mastering a foreign language is often done through a process of guided study as well as immersion by traveling to countries where the language is spoken. It could take many years to become proficient in the language, but there are people around the world who are passionate about learning languages for both professional and personal reasons.

In addition, because legal translators translate more complex terms associated with the legal system, having a deep understanding of the language that the document will be translated into is important for creating an accurate translation.

Translation certifications

In some countries, you will need certification to become a translator, legal translator or certified translator. In the legal field specifically, “certified” means you have taken an oath in the courts. Businesses doing legal translation regularly need certified translators to swear and stamp their documents for certain court proceedings.

Certified translators have special training and certification requirements that vary depending on where they are located. For example, Canada requires that applicants apply in writing and take the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council (CTTIC) exam. In Germany, the certification process requires applicants to meet specific criteria and be sworn in by the appropriate authority. Every country is slightly different, but most require some form of specialized training and certification process to qualify as a certified translator.

Getting translation certification is one way to show clients and employers that you have some credentials related specifically to translation. Other types of professional development can also be beneficial, such as acquiring higher education degrees, and gaining experience by working in the legal field may give you an advantage. As a bonus, you may learn new best practices that can be implemented in your daily work.

Translation experience

Experience is the most important factor that clients will look for when it comes to choosing a legal translator. There are some things that you can only learn with hands-on experience. Legal translation can be quite different from other types of translation, from the terminology to the standards that are expected.

To get started, many legal translators undertake general translation projects before making the switch to legal translation. Learning more about the legal industry, the types of documents that you could expect to translate and legal-specific terminology can give you better exposure to the field.

Cultural knowledge

Translating legal documents also requires a certain amount of cultural knowledge about the country that the finished document will be used in. Legal, court and country-specific terminology may not be directly translatable; a verbatim translation may not correctly convey what the original document meant.

For example, some legal systems have judges or justices that do not exist within the context of other cultures. If you directly translated these roles into other languages, they would not make sense to a reader living in a different culture. As another example, the concept of “Pleading the Fifth” is purely American and would not translate into other cultures well.

Legal expertise

Having legal expertise is another important consideration within the legal translation community. To become a legal translator, you are better off if you have legal experience or a legal background that could help you better understand the myriad of legal documents that you might work on during your career. Some legal translators are lawyers or come from other roles in the legal field.

As mentioned above, you need sufficient knowledge of legal content to know when it is necessary to use a verbatim translation and when you have more freedom over the style of the final translated document. You will need to know legal terminology and how it applies to the type of document you are translating.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to keep up with the legal industry, including any trends and changing laws that could impact your work.


If you want to become a legal translator, reach out to our expert team about any openings that might be available for translators with some experience in the legal industry. For information on everything you need to consider when translating your legal content, check out our ebook, The Definitive Guide to Legal Translations.