CETRA Legal Series: An Interview with Stephanie Thompson

In today’s edition of our ongoing series about language services for the legal field, we spotlight Stephanie Thompson, an English-German translator who specializes in legal translations. Thompson participated in a Q&A with our web editor.

Q. How did you learn German?
A. I grew up speaking mostly German as I was born in Bad Kreuznach, Germany to a German mother and American father. I attended German Kindergarten and school through 7th grade and we generally spoke German at home.

Q. Why focus on legal translation?
A. When I pursued a law degree, I did not actually plan to become a legal translator. It worked out that way when I discovered there was a market for legal translation and working from home as an independent contractor would allow me to comfortably combine family and career. In addition, legal translation is a fascinating field to me because it offers variety and I enjoy the preciseness it requires.

Q. How does legal translation differ from translations for other industries, such as market research, medical or environmental science?
A. Translating legal text differs from other types of translation because the translator must ensure that her work is very accurate in conveying each little nuance and meaning as this could be crucial in a court setting or during negotiations. This task is complicated by the fact that we are not only translating the legal words as such, but have to adapt them to the legal framework of reference. To oversimplify, the Anglo-American legal system relies mostly on legal precedent by judges, whereas the German civil law system looks mostly to statutes and codes. By its nature, legal text may not leave as much room for creativity and “poetic license” as other fields, but I enjoy piecing together the right words while building the proper context.

Q. What are the main challenges with providing legal translation?
A. In addition to the challenge I already mentioned, other challenges include translating things that originate from a different legal system and that the law does not remain static. Existing laws are constantly being revised and amended and this necessitates much reading and research in order to keep up to date. In terms of German law, the law of the European Union must also be considered. Another challenge not directly related to translating itself, but to the climate in which legal translations are generally sought, is the high pressure often placed on translators to deliver the work on a very tight deadline.

When reviewing legal translations, clients should be mindful of the fact that a quality translator has expertise in both the language pair and the subject matter. Communication is key to a good end product.

Q. What do you find most interesting or meaningful in your work as a legal translator?
A. The most interesting and rewarding aspects of being a legal translator are the ever-changing subjects that my work encompasses and the sense of satisfaction that I feel from a job well done. One week I may be translating a lawyer’s brief on fraud in the banking industry or an international commercial real estate agreement, while the next week I may be working on the revised data protection regulations or a divorce decree.