This is My Story...
Hello there! And thank you for checking out the site. My name is Matthew Capelle, and I am an attorney, legal translator, and entrepreneur in San Diego, California. I am also the husband to a beautiful and wonderful wife, Anna, and father to two gorgeous girls, Elizabeth and Avery.
If you're here, then you have expressed at least an exploratory interest in legal translation.
Perhaps you're already an established translator looking to expand your expertise to the area of law; or you're a student actively looking for a specialty; or maybe you're an established bi/multilingual attorney in search of a new career path or looking to earn some extra income.
Either way, you've come to the right place. When I was first introduced to legal translation, it was 2007, and I was in my first year of law school at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) and clerking at Bufete Ocampo, a boutique law firm in Mexico City. Although the firm specializes in insurance law, we also had a large civil/commercial litigation area. One day, my boss, Aldo, asked me to translate a civil suit from Spanish to English. I looked at him and confidently chuckled, "Piece of cake!" He asked me if I was sure. "Of course! I can speak both languages. It won't be a problem."
I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG!
It didn't take me long to realize I was in over my head. I spent HOURS that following Saturday working on that that translation and when I finally finished--let's just say the quality wasn't the greatest! That experience would change my life because it prompted me to look into some legal translation courses.
I eventually found one sponsored by the Escuela Libre de Derecho (La Libre) and given by Javier Becerra, the well-known attorney and legal translator who authored the famous (in legal translation circles) Spanish-English Legal Dictionaries. I quickly developed a great relationship with Mr. Becerra, who later invited me to work and study under him at Basham, Ringe y Correa, S.C. (Basham), a full-service law firm, where he was partner of the Mergers and Acquisitions area and also headed the firm's internal translation department.
Four years of clerking, legal translation, and intensive study later (at both the firm and at school--my days usually started with a 7:00 a.m. class, I would then work from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., and then return to school for more classes, sometimes until 10:00 p.m.), I graduated with a law degree (LL.B) and moved to Littler Mexico, a U.S.-based labor and employment law firm that had just begun to expand outside the U.S. After two years with Littler, I decided to return to the U.S. and pursue a master's degree in law (LL.M) from the University of Minnesota, which I received in 2014. At the time, I wasn't sure I wanted to ever get back into law and thought I would just focus on legal translation. I started by own translation company, Capelle Spears Legal Translations, LLC, but a few years later, I decided to get back into law, and I started to advise U.S.-based companies who had operations in Mexico. In 2020, I decided to sit for the California Bar Exam, which I passed and was sworn in as a California attorney in January 2021. Since then, I have been working as a senior associate attorney at Vidal Law Firm.
How does this help you?
15 years of legal translation experience, countless hours of independent study, 2 law degrees (and over $100K in student loans), and a license to practice law in Mexico and California later, I have accumulated enough knowledge and skill to where I know I can help you master legal translation. The law can be tricky, and I believe that the only way you can become an expert at legal translation is by understanding the law. This doesn't mean that you have to become a lawyer in two countries--far from it. But it does mean that you need to understand the fundamentals and have a working knowledge of how the law works. This won't guarantee you'll understand everything right away, but your knowledge base will be such that anything you don't know, you'll know where to look to find the answer.
And most importantly--you won't have to take out $100K in student loans or spend hundreds of hours in a classroom to do it!
The Law and Translation
Over the course of my 15-year career, I have not only translated thousands of documents, but I have also reviewed hundreds of translations prepared by others. It didn't take long to realize that these translators did not have sufficient education or training to fully to prepare an accurate rendering of the source material. That caused me to do some research online to see if there were any courses offered that would actually prepare a translator in understanding the law.
The closest thing I found were a few degree programs that included a class or two on legal translation. And dictionaries.
THIS IS NOT ENOUGH!
While a couple classes on legal translation to fulfill a degree requirement might give you a basic idea of some legal terminology, it will NOT help you in your career as a legal translator. Why? It may sound like a truism, but the key to a precise translation of any document is COMPREHENSION. Afterall, how can we expect to translate a source text accurately if we don't understand the source material? I have identified two main reasons why most translators have a difficult time translating legal documents. The first, because they are translating between two legal systems, which means there are certain legal concepts, doctrine, principles, etc., that are not easily translatable. The second reason--legal language is technical, but its technical nature is camouflaged.
Two Different Legal Systems
Unless you are translating a legal document from Puerto Rico, your Spanish source text will likely be from a country that is governed by the Civil Law system, which gets its origins from Roman Law. The US and other English-speaking countries once under British rule employ the Common Law legal system.
This fact alone is one of the core reasons why legal translation between Spanish and English is so difficult--YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND BOTH SYSTEMS!
I am not suggesting that translators need to go to law school and study scores of cases on contract disputes to understand the essential requirements of a contract, i.e., offer, acceptance, consideration, mutual intent to be bound, lawful subject matter, legal capacity, etc., because each one of these would require hours upon hours of reading and study, which is not necessary for a legal translator.
However, you would benefit from understanding what contracts are under the common law system and how they differ from their civil law counterparts.
Why? So, when you're reading a contract in Spanish or English you can understand the subject matter. How many times have you read a legal document and thought to yourself, "I have no idea what I just read"? If so, then welcome to the club!
It's a Technicality
The greatest issue I have seen with translators who attempt to translate a legal text is that they don't realize how technical the language is. If you are a translator, then you are most likely familiar with cognates and false cognates between languages that share similar roots, such as English and Spanish (educado and educated--not the same thing). But you have most likely encountered this same phenomenon between English and Legal English or Spanish and Legal Spanish, and you may not have even realized it. Much of the time, the technicality of a legal term is disguised by its everyday language counterpart, which lulls translators into a false sense of security--making them believe they understand the source when in fact they do not.
Not only will I teach you how to identify these terms, but I will also teach you the underlying legal doctrine, so you will always understand what you are reading.
What to Expect from this Website
My goal with this website is to provide you with the tools, training, and education to full grasp the intricacies of both the common law and civil law systems, so you can translate any legal document from the source to the target language.
While this website will focus on translation between Spanish and English and on Mexican and US law, which will most definitely have an impact on certain concepts and terminology, the principles we will be discussing will be the same for all common law and civil law countries and languages.
Given that people learn differently, my goal is to offer tools using different forms of media--video (vlogs, online courses, and webinars), audio (podcasts and audio versions of courses), and written (blogs, E-books, E-workbooks).
The Lawyer Translator Youtube Channel is a series of 1–3-minute videos that are designed to address specific subjects related to the law and translation.
The Law and Translation Blog will offer in-depth discussions on a wide range of topics and issues related to the law and translation, including translation theory, legal and political history--but only as they relate to or affect language and translation, translation tools, such as dictionaries, online dictionaries, CAT tools, etc., current events, news, and trends, and many others.
Gain instant access to The Lawyer Translator online courses, ranging from mini courses (2-3 hours) that discuss one specific topic, to comprehensive live or recorded webinars (15-30 hours) on legal translation subjects, such as contracts, corporate law, or judgments and rulings.
Ready to Take the Next Step in Your Translation Career?
If you want to learn how to master legal translation, then please join the community. If you join now, I will give you access to my FREE workshop and accompanying E-workbook, so you can take the next step towards becoming a professional legal translator. The other benefits you will have when joining are:
- Prime access to all other free content
- Insider knowledge of new and upcoming free and paid events
- Weekly emails on promotions, industry news and trends, tools, etc.
- Access to and participation in an ever-growing community of serious and professional legal translators
And much, much more!
My goal is to make you the best legal translator you can be without incurring in six-figure debt!
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