How to Become a Legal Translator

how to become a legal translator

Many dream of pursuing a career as a legal translator because of how rewarding the legal translation field is. To do so, they not only need to master legal translation skills but also want to stand out in this competitive scene.

First, you need to know that translating legal documents isn’t a simple task. It requires a deep understanding of both law and language.

So, if you want to become a legal translator, you need to be meticulous and have a full grasp of legal translation rules to deliver precise and error-free content in the target language.

Still curious and want to join the field? Keep on reading to find out how to become a legal translator.

What is legal translation?

Legal translation is one of the paramount fields of the translation industry due to its key role in easing communication in legal matters. 

It helps you navigate foreign legal systems and understand the meaning and intent of the source documents.

Legal translation services are widely accepted by courts and legal entities, not to mention government authorities.

That’s why, as a professional legal translator, you need to combine a set of qualifications, including language proficiency, legal knowledge, and most importantly, translation skills.

This, in addition to practice and determination, will help you ensure striking translations of legal documents and texts.

You also have to bear in mind that any inaccuracy or misinterpretation in translating legal documents would drastically affect the delivered meaning of the original text.

How is legal translation different from other types of translation?

To become a professional legal translator, you need to know what distinguishes legal translation from other forms of translation.

Translating legal texts differs from other types of translation mainly in the legal jargon,  specific terminology, and lengthy, complex sentences. 

And with every country having its own legal system, the language barrier isn’t the sole issue for readers. 

So, readers’ unfamiliarity with both the law and the source language can make a legal translator’s mission complex in delivering a clear message in the target language.

Unlike other types of translation, any errors, misinterpretations, or even ambiguity would make the translated legal document void.

Another distinction is legal translation services are usually offered by certified legal translators. That’s to ensure the translated text is appropriate, legally valid, and done by an expert.

How to become a legal translator 

If you still think having a career as a legal translator is the right fit for you, we’ve got your back. 

Here are some tips to help you step foot in the world of legal translation.

  • Be proficient in 2 languages 

Rule number one of becoming a translator, in general, is to be fluent in at least two languages. You also need to be familiar with the cultural and social aspects of these languages.

The same rule applies to legal translation. You need to be proficient in writing and speaking both the source and target languages to deliver clear-cut translations.

  • Legal language = Complexity

One of the biggest challenges of legal translation is the long and complex language structures. Legal language and jargon aside. 

Although academic and other types of writing frown upon long, run-on sentences, legal writers and lawyers don’t seem to be aware of this issue. 

Some sentences in contracts can span a whole paragraph. A 5-line or even 10-line paragraph. So, don’t panic! 

  • Be able and willing to handle confidentiality 

Translating legal documents requires a high degree of confidentiality. 

Legal documents vary from standard birth, marriage, and divorce certificates, to confidential business and government contracts, to court orders, among other types of documents. 

So, whether you’re working with a translation agency, as a freelancer, or at any type of organization, you need to maintain confidentiality as a legal translator. 

  • Understand legal language 

To become a legal translator, you have to know that law and language proficiency complement each other. 

Often translators will be proficient in two languages. But with legal translation, there is the added requirement of being familiar with legal language and jargon in those two languages. Which is no easy feat. 

Unlike regular translation services, like media translation or web localization, legal writing isn’t easy to understand to the general public. 

So, whether you consider enrolling in specialized courses or obtaining a degree in translation studies, you need to complement this education with legal writing or translation experience.

Additionally, staying up to date on changes in laws and regulations of the two languages will help your legal jargon and terminology evolve over time.

  • Be familiar with legal jargon 

Legal jargon can either make your text concise and clear or even more difficult to understand. That’s why learning how to use legal jargon in both the source and target languages is highly important.

You need to know how to use the legal jargon and how to place it in your translation to ensure the correct information and intended meaning are delivered in the target language. Not to mention, to reduce complexity.

Invest time in researching legal jargon and build a robust legal vocabulary to aid and speed up your legal translation work.

Follow best practices for legal translation, which may include checking legal dictionaries and glossaries, looking into reputable legal sources, and even consulting experts.

In today’s digital age, it’s easy to access tools and resources, which can enhance your legal jargon and translation skills. 

For example, accessing online legal databases like Westlaw means you can research legal texts and resources and verify legal terminology. 

Moreover, don’t shy away from seeking guidance from legal professionals and experts to ensure clarity in translating tricky legal jargon.

  • Consider becoming a certified translator

Obtaining certification as a legal translator isn’t mandatory in all countries, yet it can boost your credibility and marketability.

Certified translation is a type of translation that’s verified and attested by a notary. It’s not simply getting a ‘certificate’ or diploma in legal translation.

Being a certified legal translator can open up more opportunities for you. You can also gain faster recognition,  compared to your uncertified legal translation peers.

Certified legal translation services are required when dealing with certain documents, like translating immigration papers, and official papers like marriage certificates, among others. It’s also required when translating legislation. 

Many documents associated with government entities require certified translators.


In a nutshell, opting for a career in legal translation is both rewarding and risky.

Despite that, you won’t succeed in this profession unless you have a passion for languages and an interest in the legal field.

Regardless of your background, whether it’s linguistic, legal, or something else entirely if you want to become a legal translator, you need to continuously improve your translation skills and keep up with legal developments.