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This post is the second in a series I have called “What exactly is…”, the first of which examined the burgeoning subject of forensic linguistics.

The topic of lawyer-linguists has been interesting me for quite some time now, and popped up again recently on Twitter with a flurry of job offers from the European Central Bank for several languages.

Although this job title seems to be relatively new, you can see a very early lawyer-linguist on the right – Cicero…

This 7-minute video by EU Careers gives an interesting insight into the work of lawyer-linguists at the European Commission. One of the speakers explains – rather vehemently I felt ;-) – that her job is not that of a translator.

However, this is only part of the picture. If you click here, you can read a flyer about working as an English-language lawyer linguist at the Court of Justice of the EU in Luxembourg, and you will see that the duties clearly and mainly include translation.

It is also not the only term – in Canada the word ‘jurilinguist’ is used, and can be defined* as follows: “A jurilinguist provides advice related to the terminology, syntax, phraseology, organisation of ideas and style that are appropriate to legal language and, specifically, to legislative language and to the subjects dealt with, and also, within the context of bilingual co-drafted Bills and regulations, comparison services to ensure equivalency of the English and French versions.” So here we seem to be much closer to the ‘linguistics’ aspect.

As far as I can see, this seems to be a very sensitive subject too – some translation agencies promote themselves by stating that their legal translations are carried out by lawyer-linguists, thus inferring that people who are ‘only’ translators would be somehow less effective. Freelancers are also describing themselves as lawyer-linguists, where they are qualified both in the law and in translation in some way. For me, the highest quality is obtained through collaboration – whether between the client and the translator, translators and lawyers, or other experts. The more information is exchanged, both before and during translation work, the better the outcome will be.

Regarding university courses, Poitiers has been offering a Master’s program called JULI since 2001, although they don’t seem to give a clear indication of the professions taken up by alumni. In Latvia, Riga Graduate School of Law runs an MA program in Legal Linguistics which “aims to study the law and the language, providing lawyers and linguists with relevant interdisciplinary knowledge in both areas”.

There is even an association of lawyer-linguists, based in Bratislava, Slovakia. However, it seems very focused on people working in the EU institutions.

To round off this post, I suppose the conclusion all goes back to bridges again. Do we have to have opposing camps? Is the best way forward a combination of both skills?

What do you think?

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* Poirier, L. (2009, April 1-5) Whose law is it? A jurilinguistic view from the trenches. Paper presented at the CACL Conference in Hong Kong.