Legal translation is a complicated type of linguistic undertaking, as it necessitates negotiation between different languages as well as different legal systems. This requires not only linguistics skills, but also a profound knowledge of the law, the ability to research and
analyse, as well as an understanding of both legal systems concerned. In this way, legal translation is both a linguistic and an intellectual activity involving a discipline other than language.
Comparative law is also an issue in legal translation. Law is a fascinating subject because although it is applicable to the present, the way in which it has developed is grounded in language. In addition to this, it is necessary to have a familiarity with the cultures of the countries concerned, which relates to language, as it is often impossible to understand legal rules and customs without an understanding of the culture of the country to which the legal system concerned pertains. The study of legal anthropology is pertinent to this, in exploring how legal rules and customs have developed. In Continental Europe, a great deal of law is based on Roman law, parts of which are still used. This was partly due to the dominance of Roman law due to Roman rule of the continent, as well as because the system of Roman law was extremely organised and the standard of legal rules other than Roman law was unsophisticated and inadequate in comparison.
Jurists tended to revere Roman law even after the Roman empire had crumbled because its solidity and logic endured. Additionally, the use of Latin by the Catholic Church, a great monolithic power in Europe in the medieval period, with its authority being impaired only by the Reformation, meant that Roman law was embedded in the legal institutions of the time, which were often controlled by the Church. Importantly, Latin was the language of the law in this period and in this way, linguistic activity and law became inextricably linked. The use of Roman law was similar to that of the French Civil Code, which came to be used across parts of Europe due to the promulgation of liberal concepts and the prestige of the French language itself.
There are certainly difficulties in translating language, especially legal language, and yet this is what makes the translation of law and language so challenging and fascinating. This is especially the case when some expressions cannot be translated, because, for example, an expression in the source language has no equivalent in the target language, perhaps because the legal equivalent or concept simply dos not exist. Another linguistic issue in legal translation is the combination in one language, such as French, of more than one legal language. For example, French is use, in addition to France, in parts of Africa, in Switzerland, and in Quebec. However, the legal language of Quebec is not the same legal language of France, and this is also an example of where one language can have two different legal codes and legal languages.
Problems of translation also occur that arise from the law itself, and a keen knowledge of the law is necessary so that the exact meaning and context of the word that is being translated can be properly established. Only following this can the correct word be found that will accurately convey the required meaning. This task is the work of a jurist, who is the sole person sufficiently competent to determine whether the expression of a concept is equivalent in two different languages. In addition to this, the task of the translator is complicated by the way in which language develops and is used in different contexts, and how a word may be used differently in different contexts and within different categories. The same word can convey different meanings and have various connotations, and it can also be influenced by the history of a legal rule.
A legal translator must question ever word used, and ensure that the word adopted for a translation to the target language corresponds to the original. Legal translation is a composition of various disciplines, these being linguistics, as well a the theories of both law and translation. Like language, law is not a discipline that can be easily defined, as it is filled with concepts such as the need for reasonable doubt, a notion which is subject to various interpretations and explanations. Furthermore, language is constantly developing and changing, as is law, which is subject to numerous outside influences. Ultimately, legal translation is inherently a linguistic activity, and the legal translator must master not only the languages required, but also the law itself.