Legal Translator: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a legal translator. Learn about places of employment, training options, career outlook and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Applied Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Legal Translator?

Legal translators help in courtroom or other law-related situations where a language barrier prevents good written communication. This requires fluency in at least two languages. The goal of a translator is to convert a document into a target language so that the final product reads as if it were the original material. Day to day work typically happens on a computer, and, these days, computer-assisted translation is common. This increases the efficiency and consistency of a translator's work by relying on a computer database to provide a memory bank of previously used words and phrases.

Legal translators must be fluent in multiple languages and proficient writers, but they should also have a solid understanding of legal systems and terminology. The following chart gives an overview of the legal translating career.

Education Required Language training if you are not bilingual; bachelor's degree required by many employers
Education Field of Study Translation, legal translation, Spanish or another language
Key Skills Translating legal documents into another language, editing, grammar, spelling
Job Growth (2014-2024) 29% for all translators and interpreters*
Median Salary (2017) $44,622 for all translators**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com.

What Do Legal Translators Do?

As a legal translator, you would convert written legal papers from one language to another. This does not include a career such as court interpreter, because interpretation involves spoken, not written, language. However, many legal translators are trained to do both. You may translate executive orders, affidavits, judicial opinions, naturalization papers, real estate documents, trusts and wills. Therefore, it's important that you understand the legal systems that may be involved.

Where Do Legal Translators Work?

If a government office employs you, you may work in a court or law enforcement agency and attend hearings for labor, immigration or administration. If you work for a private company, your location could be in an insurance company, medical center, financial institution or international corporation. If you become a freelance translator, you may be able to work primarily at home.

What Training Would I Need?

Your background for a career in legal translation should include two main areas: facility in two languages and a fair amount of knowledge of the legal system. You must have strong editing abilities and know the grammar and spelling of both languages you master. You can take online continuing-education courses in editing. Or you may decide to invest six weeks and earn a certificate in editing.

Certificate programs in this field are language-specific, such as Spanish/English, Arabic/English or German/English. Most U.S. schools focus on Spanish/English. You can choose from programs in general translation and then take elective courses in legal translation. Or you may find a program that focuses entirely on legal translation.

What Could I Expect to Earn?

There are no specific statistics for legal translators' salaries. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median salary of $44,190 for the combined group of translators and interpreters as of May 2015. Language was a key determinant of salary, according to the BLS: translating a high-demand language, or one for which there are not many translators, can increase your income.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A legal interpreter has a job very similar to that of a legal translator, with similar educational requirements as well. Interpreters are responsible for translating spoken word to a different language, rather than written text. Becoming a court reporter is another career option to consider. These professionals, who typically complete a certificate program in order to work, are responsible for creating verbatim transcripts of court proceedings. They also sometimes provide television captioning services.

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