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In this post, Dr Juliette Scott reflects on how Brexit could bring unexpected opportunities in legal translation.
As I write, it seems inevitable that the UK will be leaving the European Union – potentially accompanied by ‘softer’ negotiations in the light of the recent election. Scrambling to address this new, unprepared landscape, leading law firms, legal publishers and public agencies are offering a raft of seminars, workshops and advisory papers on how Brexit will affect financial markets, import-export, tax, competition law, dispute resolution… the list is endless.
This post, however, examines the effects of Brexit on the somewhat invisible activity of legal translation. It takes place behind the scenes at law firms, governments, international organisations and corporations all over the world, every hour and every day of the week.
And yet, very few people have any idea of its importance on their lives. Still fewer know what translating legal text entails, or the extent of skills required.
You may have heard that translation represents a ‘massive cost’ for the European Union. Or you may have come across the retort that in fact, the cost per citizen amounted to a ‘cup of coffee a year’.
Whatever means of analysis and whatever political slant is adopted, the fact remains that international relations give rise to a great deal of translation work, and much of this is in the legal field. Far from disappearing with Brexit, it is highly possible that volumes will actually increase – both within the UK and worldwide.
For some months now I have been speaking to UK Government lawyers who are expressing a pressing need to retrain in legal translation and/or to upgrade or further enhance their language skills. The sheer extent of legislation to be incorporated, converted or transposed into domestic law is staggering (Legislating for Brexit: the Great Repeal Bill, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Number 7793, 2 May 2017).
In both the public and private sectors, individual trade negotiations will no doubt become more common than EU-centred group deals – generating translation needs among the parties involved. Over-reliance by Britain on Anglophone partners such as the US would certainly impinge upon its currently diverse business base. Countries for whom a post-Brexit UK represents an opportunity will, of course, not all be English speakers.
The fact is that individuals, businesses and institutions worldwide are not going to stop talking to each other because of Brexit. On the contrary, they are going to have a whole host of new and multilingual conversations, with a whole host of new and multilingual contacts.
We cannot predict the manifold future effects of Brexit. What is becoming clear is that those with legal translation skills, language skills and experience of international legal cultures may become far more precious than we could possibly have imagined one year ago.
Dr Juliette Scott researches legal translation studies at the School of Advanced Study. Her current main focus is the under-explored area of ‘outstitutional’ legal translation. She is also establishing the School’s new Legal Translation Hub, a joint initiative between its Institute of Modern Languages Research and Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. As part of its educational, research and engagement activities it has just launched a unique LLM in Legal Translation. Dr Scott also has 25 years’ experience of providing corporate and legal linguistic services to law firms, institutions and companies of all dimensions.