Legal eagles – report on the Words to Deeds 2017 Conference

On 4 February 2017, over 55 people met at the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, a hidden gem in the heart of London, for the Words to Deeds Conference 2017 on legal translation. The conference was the first of its kind to bring together legal academics, lawyers and legal translators to discuss the legal translation profession, its trends, its challenges and the way ahead.

Words to Deeds is the brainchild of Juliette Scott, aka “The Words to Deeds” blogger who is highly regarded and enjoys a loyal following among legal translators. The location, the materials distributed, the catering, everything was of the utmost quality and professionalism. Legal translators deserve nothing less than to be treated with the same level of service and respect as lawyers.

Glancing around the room, I felt incredibly privileged to be sharing this special event with so many experienced legal translators. No fewer than 24 different countries were represented. Some participants were lawyers who have left their legal practice to work as legal translators, others were veteran legal translators. In addition, there were some published authors of well-known legal translation “bibles” and also some experts working for European institutions. All came from different backgrounds. All shared the same passion (legal translation) and the same values (quality, professionalism and integrity).

The Big Picture

The morning was packed with interesting presentations. The opening keynote speech (by video recording) was from Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston QC (a strong advocate of legal translators) who stressed that she could not do her job without the in-house and freelance legal translators involved in the EU institutions. Lawyer Susan Belgrave then explained how lawyers can learn from translators (communication and writing skills) and how translators can learn from lawyers (marketing, team work, networking, pro-bono). Juliette Scott ended the first session by reminding the audience of the importance of obtaining a full translation brief to ensure quality.

The Nitty-Gritty

The second session looked at the processes and methodology that legal translators follow. The legal academic, Hanem El-Farahety, illustrated this with Arabic legal translations and the legal translator, Samantha Cayron, showed us translations of French and Spanish notarial documents. Finally, the Quality Manager at the Directorate-General for Translation in the European Commission, Ingemar Strandvik, reminded the audience that agreed standards can benefit translators as they give us credibility, assertiveness and enable us to improve our communication with clients. He also mentioned the new upcoming ISO 2077 for legal translation.

The Substance

The final presentations focused on the substance of legal documents. The first two were from “practademics” (i.e. translators also involved in academia). Gianluca Pontrandolfo shared his tips and traps, which he had learned while translating the Italian Criminal Procedure Code into English, while Paulina Wilson compared the legal concept of negligence under English, German and Polish law. Finally, the commercial lawyer, Sahar Bhaimia, highlighted the need for plain and clear language when writing (not drafting!) consumer and data protection contracts.

Walks & Talks

There was a great deal to digest after such a thought-provoking morning and we all enjoyed a first-class buffet. To encourage stimulating conversations, Juliette had then organised a brainstorming walk, based on the Scandinavian concept, in the private gardens. This provided us with the opportunity to discuss a number of topics in smaller groups such as how to professionalise legal translation, the best way to prepare for the future of our profession and how to raise the profile of legal translators.

Bridge-Building in Practice

We all returned feeling refreshed and ready for the afternoon’s workshops. Each group discussed a different topic but there were essentially three themes that emerged from all the groups. The first was the need to embrace new technology, to learn about new tools and to make them our ally by controlling them rather than having third parties use these tools to control us (i.e. pricing and end version). The second was the importance of teamwork and collaboration to improve not only the quality of our work but also our status. The third theme was the need to keep a critical eye, whether it is when we analyse the source text to spot inconsistencies, or when we search for resources online (as not all are reliable).

The Last Words

The conference ended on a very positive note. Legal translator Christina Guy demonstrated some less known and impressive features (at least to me!) of her CAT Tool to boost efficiency when translating patents. David Hutchins shared some tips from the point of view of an English solicitor. The Closing Keynote was given by none other than the current President of the International Federation of Translators, Henry Liu, who had come all the way from New Zealand for the occasion and who drew an interesting and amusing comparison between machine translation and a dating website: even if everything seems to match in the programme, without the right person, it will not work.

Some of the participants then went on to a silent visit of Dennis Sever’s House followed by a dinner in Spitafields. Everyone shared the hope that this would be the first of many Words to Deeds conferences on legal translation.


Click here to download a pdf of the article as published in the ITI Bulletin.




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