In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English, common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored. In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.
The common term asistir has a meaning in legal language that is fairly unknown to non-lawyers. In the rather formal expression “le asiste (a Ud.) el derecho,” asistir cannot be translated literally as “assist,” but rather has the peculiar meaning of disponer de un derecho. Thus le asiste el derecho suggests that “you have a legal right.” When the preposition “a” or “de” is added, the expression means “you have a right to” or “you are entitled to.” A few examples that I have come across in my translation work include le asiste el derecho a examinar el expediente (“you have the right to examine the case file”); le asiste el derecho a alegar por escrito lo que en su defensa estime conveniente (“you have the right to submit written allegations in your defense”) and le asiste el derecho de reclamación ante la Junta Arbitral de Consumo (“you have the right to file a complaint with the Consumer Arbitration Board”).