Juliette Rose Scott
The Pernicious Effects of Terms Used for and by the Legal Translation Profession
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 68, 2017 60
1.1 Can legal translation be classed as a profession?
Before going any further, we should rst reect on whether legal translation can actually be classed as, let
alone named, a ‘profession’ at all. In discussing professional liability in services, Reitz summarizes ve
elements required by US courts to dene a profession and class it as such: (i) members with extensive
qualications; (ii) a stringent code of ethics; (iii) a high level of responsibility; (iv) regulation; (v) a system
to discipline those who do not comply with standards or requirements (2003).
Such dening traits are also adopted by Dam and Zethsen, who add a number of others: the public recognition
of status and prestige, monopoly over work (reserved title), autonomy of action, remuneration reecting
professional standing, and an effective professional body (2011).3
If we use Reitz’s criteria, legal translation cannot be dened as a profession in the current state of affairs.
Although many legal translators are highly qualied and experienced, it is not the case that all legal translations
are done by such individuals – far from it. Codes of conduct and ethics do exist, but there is no mandatory
requirement to adhere to them, and their content varies considerably from country to country and from one
professional body to another.4 The responsibility weighing upon those translating documents that involve
very large sums of money (e.g. cross-border litigation), or individuals’ lives (e.g. criminal convictions) ought
to be clear to all, but is rarely perceived.5
Regulation and disciplinary action, the fourth and fth points listed by Reitz, are non-existent in the vast
majority of countries in any form: “In no country that we have surveyed6 is any academic qualication – or
indeed any kind of formal qualication at all – required in order to use the term ‘translator’ or its equivalent
generic terms” (Pym et al., 2012, p. 20). Professional bodies do not generally act as gatekeepers to the
profession either – according to Gouadec (2007), only in Argentina, Denmark, Norway and certain provinces
of Canada7 is access to the translation profession subject to approval by a local union of translators. Although
there are a number of standards applying to translation with more under development,8 no disciplinary
measures are currently in place to address any potential non-compliance.
1.2 Descriptors for the ‘profession’
There is no consistent name for the group of (legal) translation professionals, either when used by academics,
by clients, or by professionals themselves. The two most common terms for the overall, umbrella eld of
translation are “industry” and “profession”. A comparison and critique of their use by Drugan suggests
some nuances in meanings attached by academics (2013, pp. 6-8). She holds that “profession” for some
scholars “can indicate regret regarding recent developments in translation, seen as a shift […] to […] mass
production”, referring to Gouadec (2007). In this regard she refers to “crusade” and “daunting accounts”, and
appears derisive of those who prefer this term. Many translation scholars employ these loaded terms without
providing denitions or grounds for their use.
Figure 1 shows a range of terms used to describe the translation ‘profession’ by all stakeholders: scholars,
clients, service provision intermediaries, and translators. It does not refer specically or only to the legal
specialism. Like Figures 6, 7, 9 and 10 later in this paper, it illustrates a terminological cline, where the
direction of the arrow represents an increasing level of occupational prestige, and the most commonly used
terms are shown in a larger font size.
3 For Dam & Zethsen “Translation in Denmark could probably be called a semi-profession aspiring to become a full profession”
(2011, p. 79).
4 See International Federation of Translators (FIT) collection of codes of ethics: http://www.t-europe.org/en/what-we-do/completed-
5 Even in general Translation Studies, without the added responsibilities of the legal specialism, Sela-Sheffy remarks upon the
contradiction between translators’ potential power and their “obscure professional denition and alleged sense of submissiveness
[…] that makes them such an intriguing occupational group” (2016, p. 135).
6 The report by Pym et al. studied the European Union and drew “comparisons with the United States, Canada and Australia” (2012, p. 3).
7 Ontario, New Brunswick, Quebec and British Colombia (Godbout 2016).
8 ISO 9000 series; the German DIN) 2345; (C)EN 15038: 2006 and ISO 17100; ASTM F2575-06; and the National Standard of the
People’s Republic of China GB/T 19363.1-2003. Under development: ISO 20771 on legal translation. See also Drugan 2013, Biel
2011b, Strandvik, 2012.