11th CTS Professionalisation Talk 2018-19

On 15 February 2019, Sue Leschen presented to students at the University of Leeds on working as a legal translator and interpreter.

Sue is a Manchester-based lawyer-linguist who was brought up speaking French and English, and who uses both of these languages in her professional work.

Although no longer practising, she is a fully qualified solicitor who moved into full-time legal and commercial translation and interpreting after some years working in law. In order to have a recognisable presence on the languages services market, Sue created her own business, Avocate, which offers legal and commercial French interpreting and translation services. In French, ‘avocate’ means ‘female lawyer’ and moreover, as any savvy marketing professional knows, the fact that the business name begins with an ‘A’ means that it appears first in alphabetical registers of language service providers.

Sue’s impressive CV includes membership of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), of which she is a council member, a committee member for the Interpreting Division and committee member for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. She is also a member of the Professional Conduct Committees for the National Register of Public Service Interpreters and the National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind people.

In addition to this, she also offers training and mentoring, for those wishing to sit CIOL’s Diploma in Public Service Interpreting and Diploma in Police Interpreting exams. She also provides training to new and existing colleagues wishing to start up in the profession or enhance their own existing businesses.

Sue offered advice and tips for budding legal translators and interpreters throughout her talk, both specialism-specific and for the translation and interpreting field in general. She emphasised how important it is for translators to know the market thoroughly, which includes understanding legal terminology. Sue noted how, especially in the legal market, a translator cannot afford to make mistakes and must stay up-to-date with changing terminology and laws. Sue highlighted how it is essential to know about contracts and the legal framework as a whole, since having expertise in the subject area you are investing in will make you much more attractive to clients. Being careful with details relating to names, companies, and individuals is an essential aspect of the job. Although Sue focussed on legal translation, this advice is relevant for all specialisms and contributes to a linguist’s continuous professional development (CPD). There are also some more practical and administrative aspects of the job that translators need to be aware of, which Sue mentioned. From personal experience, she advised that translators ask for deposits upfront from clients, as well as use interim billing throughout large projects in order to eliminate the risk of not being paid by clients. Additionally, students were advised not to put all their eggs in one basket if they are freelancing. It is dangerous to rely on one client as your main source of income, which prompted Sue to emphasise how important it is to continuously market your business. As a rule of thumb, it is important to check any work offered before you accept it, as well as clarify any terms and conditions at the start of the project, in order to avoid confusion when it comes to delivery and payments. Sue also encouraged students to join professional organisations both in the UK and in the countries relevant to our language pairs.

Sue also recommended a number of resources for those translators interested in specialising in the legal field. For one, as a member of the CIOL translators can sign up for a free mentoring programme and receive guidance from professional translators. As noted earlier, Sue herself provides individual mentoring services for a reasonable fee, details of which can be found on her website. Sue emphasized that translators who want to break into the field of legal translation should immerse themselves in the market by reading specialist legal journals and magazines; attending events related to the legal field; sitting in on public court proceedings; and maintaining legal glossaries. One upcoming event hosted by the CIOL Translating Division on 18 May is Progressing your career as a legal translator: a day of theory and practice. Sue Leschen will be leading two sessions: “What legal translation is and isn't” and “Dabbling, specialising and becoming an expert in legal translation”.


Written by Sophia Georgiou, David Gray, and Katie Nolde.