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Legal Interpreter


At a Glance

Legal translators re-express written words from one language into another while legal interpreters translate the spoken words from one language into another language. They assist judges, lawyers, police officers, defendants, plaintiffs, and any other individuals who, at one time or another, may find themselves facing a language barrier within the justice system. 


Whereas translators work with written language, interpreters work with spoken word, translating it aloud into another language. 

In the House of Commons or at the General Assembly of the United Nations, for example, interpreters simultaneously translate what is being said so that everyone can understand the speaker. The interpreter’s words are broadcast through headphones to participants. 

Some interpreters work in sign language. Using visually transmitted patterns, these interpreters express the speaker’s message for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. 

Legal proceedings

Legal interpreters help their clients understand what is going on during various legal and administrative proceedings. The interpreter simultaneously translates everything that is being said during a hearing so everyone present can understand. The services of a legal translator may also be needed to help parties during negotiations or during a meeting between a lawyer and a client claiming refugee status. 

Legal vocabulary

Like the translator, legal interpreters must also be familiar with specialized legal vocabulary and legal agreements. The interpreter has much less time than a translator to find the right word because the translation is being done in real time…while the other person is talking!


Legal interpreters often travel wherever their services are needed, including:

  • Law firms;
  • Courts of justice;
  • Administrative courts; and
  • Sites where negotiations are being conducted.

They may also work for:

  • Translation firms;
  • Governments;
  • Large companies;
  • Media outlets; or
  • Themselves.

Education and Training

There are a number of ways to become a translator or an interpreter: 

1. Obtain an undergraduate translation degree and then specialize in the legal field, either through in-house training with your employer or by doing further studies in law (legal assistant, paralegal, degree or certificate in law). While employers don’t necessarily require that you have this additional training, it would be a great asset for anyone interested in becoming a legal translator or interpreter.


In Alberta, translation is not offered in French in postsecondary institutions. However, the following universities offer French programs: Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge, Concordia and Athabasca. Consult the two sites below for more information on careers in translation and interpretation in Alberta:


In Manitoba, you can do a certificate or bachelor’s degree in translation at:

New Brunswick

In New Brunswick, you can do a bachelor’s degree in translation at:


In Ontario, you can do a bachelor’s degree in French translation at:

2. Do a law degree and then become a translator or interpreter.

Lawyers who would like to go on and do legal translation can do a master’s degree in legal translation at the University of Ottawa, the only program of its kind in Canada. The program runs one and a half years, and candidates must already hold a law degree in order to be admitted. 

Provincial professional associations

Once you have completed your training, you can become certified through your province’s professional association. This provides you with official recognition and an attestation of your skills. 

Necessary skills

Here are some of the key skills needed for a career as a legal translator or an interpreter. 

Attention to detail

Translators and interpreters must be able to find just the right word. Being faithful to the messages being expressed in the original language makes all the difference in the world between a good translator or interpreter and a bad one.  


Legal translators and interpreters must be particularly vigilant about the meaning of the terms they use. Poor word choices could give the impression the translator is not a neutral party. 

Listening skills

It goes without saying that in order to translate a sentence, you must understand what is being said! It is vital for translators and interpreters to listen closely to their clients. Legal interpreters must also be very fast in order to be able to translate someone else’s words at the same time as they are listening to the other person.  

Excellent written communication skills

Legal translators are expected to be able to write as well as the author of the original text. More often than not however, translating a document requires even more skill than writing it. Translators must have a good grasp of the subtleties of both languages and be at ease with familiar phrases and colloquial expressions in both languages. 

These are just some examples of the skills you would need to be a legal translator or interpreter. Qualities like being thorough, independent and hard working would also help you become an excellent translator or interpreter. fournit de l'information juridique générale et non des avis ou conseils juridiques. Il est conseillé de consulter un avocat afin de connaître les règles qui s’appliquent à votre situation particulière. Par ailleurs, la plupart de l’information juridique présentée sur ce site est basée sur le droit en vigueur partout au Canada, à l'exception du Québec.

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