Legal Translation: 25 Terms Every Translator Will Know

It’s impossible for us to prosper as a society if we don’t have strict legal practices in place. Laws and regulations not only help us to determine right from wrong but are relevant in all aspects of our daily lives, from knowing which side of the road to drive on to paying taxes and renting property.

When it comes to legal translation, it’s about more than simply taking a written text and translating it into the target language. Not only does it require a high level of proficiency in two or more languages, but a resounding knowledge of a wide range of legal terminology

This kind of terminology is rich in vocabulary, with certain terms that have a specific meaning. In addition, these terms can mean different things depending on to which country or regions those laws are applied. For example, in the United States, “remit” in a legal context, refers to transferring a case to a lower court. Whereas in the United Kingdom, “remit” can signify holding authority or a set of responsibilities. 

Therefore, the task of accurately interpreting a legal text and properly applying it to research, analysis, and document preparation is a challenging one. To give you an idea, here are a just few examples of terms commonly used by qualified legal translators:

  1. Accessory –  a person who is involved in the commission of a crime but was not present during the time that the crime was committed 
  2. Actus reus – Latin for a guilty act or an act with criminal intent
  3. Appellate court otherwise known as an appeals court, it’s where a person charged with a crime can appeal their conviction
  4. Bringing suit –  the process of instituting legal action 
  5. Criminal case – a court proceeding where a person who is charged with a crime is brought to trial  
  6. Civil case – a legal dispute usually involving money or property 
  7. Closed court – a court that is closed to the public 
  8. Common law – common or unwritten laws based on the legal precedents set out by the courts 
  9. Counterclaim – a separate cause of action to disprove a previous claim 
  10.  Conservator – a person who is appointed by the court and given legal responsibility for another person 
  11. Grand jury – a group of citizens appointed by a prosecutor to decide whether or not a defendant should be brought to conviction
  12. Federal Judge – a judge nominated by the President of the United States to work in the federal appeals court  
  13. Higher court – the highest court where the final appeal order is made in a civil or criminal case 
  14. Injunction – a court order that commands or prohibits a certain act 
  15. Libel – false and malicious written documents that are damaging to a person’s reputation or exposes a person to public ridicule
  16. Motive – the reason that impels the mind to engage in a criminal act 
  17. Nanny state laws – intrusive regulations legislating or prohibiting those under the age of the majority (getting tattooed, piercing body parts)
  18. Open court – a trial that takes place in front of the public 
  19. Plaintiff – a person that brings a case to the court of law
  20. Plea bargain – an agreement between the prosecutor and a criminal defendant under which the accused agrees to plead guilty to have the charges dismissed or in exchange for a more lenient sentence 
  21. Remand – the return of a case for a new hearing or a new trial 
  22. Scienter – knowledge, particularly guilty knowledge that will result in a person’s own liability or guilt 
  23. Special damages – damages that may be added to a case, that arise from particular circumstances of the case. For example, medical expenses 
  24. Statute of Limitations – the maximum period of time that the parties of a lawsuit have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of an alleged offense 
  25. Trial courta court where a case is brought to trial 

There is little room for misunderstandings or mistakes when it comes to legal documents which are often highly confidential and sensitive in nature. One wrong word will not only damage a law firm’s reputation but can have serious implications for contractual obligations, or in some cases, even influence the outcome of a criminal court case. 


As a reliable and proficient translation agency, Language Department will have a team working diligently over the subtle nuances and details of legal documents to ensure the intended message is clear and no mistakes are made. Contact us today for a QUOTE or if you require any of our other translation services.