Skills Required to Become a Legal Translator

Last Updated On: December 6, 2022

inTranslation Skills

Legal Translation

Translators are professionals who translate a huge variety of different texts, ranging from websites to manuals and personal documents. Most translators, once they have embarked on a career in the translation industry, tend to end up specializing in the field of translation. For example, translators may specialize in marketing translation, literary translation, legal translation, scientific and technical translation, etc.

Legal translators, to take an example, are unlikely to have been lawyers, but may have had a job related to legal transactions, even as a paralegal. The experience gained in examining legal documents, filing in court, doing research, and carrying out correspondence all help immensely when shifting over careers and becoming a legal translator.

What do legal translators actually translate?

Legal translators translate all sorts of documents that have some legal connection. This could include any combination of the following.


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    • Personal documents are primarily needed for visa applications or employment applications. These may include such things as educational qualifications, certificates, diplomas and degrees, professional qualifications, police, and criminal checks, and financial and medical. This sort of translation is very common and often the ‘bread and butter for some translation agencies and individual freelance translators.
    • Documents relating to property and asset exchanges, distribution, and sales. This includes the translation of wills and testaments.
    • Business documents, such as patents, contracts, license applications, correspondence between international agencies and clients, and documents pertaining to litigation.
    • Court documents

    What are legal translation skills?

    There are several key qualities of a good translator. First and foremost, legal translators, like any other translators, must have a very sound working knowledge of the language or languages they will use when translating legal documents. 

    Translators generally have gone through some sort of specialized training in translation. This depends on the country in which they are based. In Australia, for example, very few translators do not have accreditation with the national accreditation authority, NAATI. Accreditation requires passing a series of tests, so accredited translators then have proof of their skills. There are similar, but not exactly the same accreditation practices in other parts of the world, especially Europe.

    Fluency in two or more languages must then be accompanied by an ability to understand and use the legal terminology used in the legal documents they have been contracted to translate. This is where their prior experience becomes particularly useful. 

    Legal translators do need to understand just how important confidentiality is when it comes to translating legal documents. Many legal documents are very sensitive and any breach in information could be an expensive and very problematic situation for the clients and ultimately for the translator or translation agency.

    Normal skills required by every translator apply to legal translators as well. This means an ability to edit and proofread one’s translated material as well as make any necessary corrections in formatting and style. The latter is particularly important in most legal documents. An in-depth understanding and experience with the legal systems of the corresponding countries are important as legal definitions are not always able to be transferred easily without background references.

    Where do legal translators work?

    Legal translators work in different ways. Some work for companies or government agencies that typically have significant needs for translation. This is called in-house translation.

    Other legal translators may work for a translation agency. Some translation agencies are quite large and may have translators working for them who specialize in different fields of translation, or the agency may specialize solely in legal translation.

    Some translators also work as freelancers and may primarily work online. The internet frees the freelance translator up so that his or her home may double as the office!

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