The difference between legal translators and interpreters

Translators and interpreters are usually needed for legal cases as there are a number of languages to be catered to. Language professionals specialise in their fields as there are different contexts, knowledge and skills needed. For clients uncertain of whether they need a legal translator or interpreter, here is a guide on how to ensure you receive the right help. 

What is a legal translator?

A translator works with written documents to change the original language to the desired one. When working in the legal sector, a translator must be familiar with the terminology, laws and processes to ensure no mistakes are made in understanding the happenings of the situation. This is to ensure that the client will receive the necessary help needed in the most efficient and easiest way. Legal translations are important as it can deter a court’s judgement if it is not understood well or create misunderstandings which can sway the result negatively. 

Legal translators work on documents such as:

  • Contracts and agreements 
  • Briefs
  • Patents
  • Licenses 
  • Financial documents
  • Birth certificates; birth, marriage, divorce 
  • Diplomas
  • Wills
What is a legal interpreter?

An interpreter does the opposite of a translator and translates languages through speaking or signing. There are 6 different types of interpreting which include consecutive, simultaneous, travel interpreting and more. These vary from interpreting at the same time as the speaker beside them or through a headset, or waiting once finished to interpret and can be read about in more detail at this link. Legal interpreters need to specialise in their field too and be familiar with the case, terminology, etc.


They provide service for legal cases such as: 

  • Trials
  • Depositions,
  • Hearings
  • Mediations
  • Client meetings
  • Conferences


Due to the need of interpreting on the spot, interpreters need to be quick on their feet and be able to concentrate to make quick judgements of the speaker’s meaning. He/She have to be careful of interpreting properly as certain terminology may be important if they miss it or are not familiar with it.

Commonalities and differences between the two roles

Both roles take part within the legal sector and include language services so there are bound to be similarities. The main differences are that translator’s main skill is their depth of knowledge as they have more time to translate, make sure it is efficient and direct whereas interpreters are based on their speed as it is done in real-time and more focus-orientated.