Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the 4th Lawyer-Linguist Virtual Event organized by fellow lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar and Proz.com. My overall impression of the event was very positive. I was thrilled to be working with Suzanne and Drew MacFadyen again and to see so many new participants compared to previous years.
When I became a lawyer-linguist, I found myself constantly having to explain what I do for a living, as if legal-linguists were a weird science only a handful of people had ever heard about. I remember back when I was a part-time Law Professor, I had a meeting with my Dean and when the question, “what have you been up to lately, Paula?” was met with, “I’m starting up a legal-linguistic consulting firm,” I could see a question mark draw itself on his face as he wondered, “What on her Earth is she talking about?” But he’s an exceptionally nice guy, so he listened to what I had to say about being a lawyer-linguist. A few months later, I was giving a special presentation to our students as part of the university’s professional orientation efforts, and now, one of the participants is an aspiring lawyer-linguist applying to a United Nations internship. Not bad for a weird science.
Not so long after that, I attended an ordinary meeting of the Public Policies Forum of the Supreme Court of Argentina, of which I am member, and when a judge and translation client of whom I am particularly fond walked up to me and asked, “what have you been up to lately, Paula?” and I answered, “I’ve been starting up a legal-linguistic consulting firm,” I could again see that big old question mark. This again! “I thought you were a lawyer and a translator,” said he. “I am.” “So what’s this legal-linguist consulting?” “Well… you know when you send me something to translate but my service doesn’t end there? Like when I advise you on how certain legal arguments may be interpreted in the legal system where the document will be read? Or I look up pertinent jurisprudence that can support your arguments? Or when I explain certain cultural or technical aspects that can affect how your document is read by lawyers abroad? Or when I consult with other lawyers in the target country to understand and analyze their domestic law and how to render your text intelligible to them?” “Yes, I appreciate all that,” he replied (and it’s great to be appreciated!). “Well, that’s legal-linguistic consulting. It’s that extra something you get from my translation service because I am also a lawyer,” I pointed out, because why would I miss the opportunity to remind him of how much value my legal training and experience adds to my work?
Last month, I was in Miami for the 56th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association where I gave a presentation on translation in the human rights arena. While in Miami, I found myself at the bank and as I somewhat awkwardly waited for some information to load on my account executive’s computer, he decided to make friendly chit-chat, “What do you for a living, Paula?” “I’m a lawyer-linguist,” I replied as I waited for the question mark. “Oh, that’s wonderful! A buddy of mine is a lawyer-linguist at our headquarters in […]! What you guys do is so interesting. How many languages do you speak?” For a minute I thought he was kidding. Then I realized he was serious and he really knew what lawyer-linguists do and how we add value to language services. I used to like my bank, now I love it! Up until then, as far as I knew, only international organizations were employing in-house lawyer-linguists.
Which brings me back to last week and the 4th Virtual Event. I noticed not just more attendees, but also more panelists and presenters who were genuinely satisfied with their careers and thriving as lawyer-linguists. As someone who has been in the language business for a very long time, I’m thrilled to see these signs of growth in my field.
Will there come a day when the seemingly simple question of what I do does not draw question marks on people’s faces? I knew when I got into this business I was taking a huge risk. There isn’t too much information about our market. We often find ourselves sailing in the dark making decisions based more on our gut than on information that is vastly available to professionals in other fields. Yet business has been growing steadily to the point to which I’ve gone from a one-woman operation to a boutique firm (with the help of my Co-Director and partner, Pablo Klammer, of course). As we review and update our business plan for 2016, the question is, how far will the sails take us?