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Legal Translator

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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. 


You are likely familiar with the work of translators. They transfer written texts from one language to another. Legal translators specialize in translating legal documents and texts. 

Legal vocabulary

Legal professionals use a specialized vocabulary, one that takes a good deal of time to learn:

  • Some words are used only within a legal context and have a very specific meaning.
  • Some words are used outside the legal field as well but have a very different meaning in a legal context.
  • Some legal terms don’t have an equivalent in the other language. This is often the case in Canada where there are two legal systems — civil law in Quebec and common law elsewhere in Canada. These two legal systems are quite different in a number of ways, and each one has specific concepts that don’t exist in the other legal system. And sometimes there isn’t even a term in one language to express a concept or idea in the other language. 

Types of documents

Legal translators work on all kinds of documents, from contracts, laws and legislation to legal decisions and wills, for example. 


Translators usually specialize in pairs of languages, translating from one specific language into another. 

Since Canada is a bilingual country, the demand for translation from English to French and from French to English is very high. All official and legal texts produced by the federal government, including legislation, and the decisions of some courts like the Supreme Court of Canada, must be made available in both official languages. 

In Canada, federal statutes and regulations are, interestingly, not translated! They are co-drafted, or written side-by-side, by an English legal specialist and a French legal specialist. 


The Government of Canadas Translation Bureau

One of the largest employers of translators is the federal government’s Translation Bureau. The government must publish all official documents in both languages, which, of course, requires a very high number of translators. 

Provincial governments

Some provincial governments (Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec) also produce their documents in both languages and, as a result, hire translators. 

Translation firms

Many professional translators work for a translation firm that provides services to lawyers and other members of the legal community. 


A translator can also be self-employed. 

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 hardworking 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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