Multiple Meanings of letrado

Because letrado has at least three different meanings in Spanish legal usage, this term is sometimes a source of confusion and translation mistakes. Letrado is most often simply a synonym for abogado (“lawyer,” “attorney,” “counsel”) and derecho a la asistencia letrada is the “right to counsel,” while letrado de oficio is “assigned (or) appointed counsel,” sometimes referred to as a “legal aid lawyer.” In England and Wales the preferred term in this context is “duty solicitor,” while in Canada “duty counsel” is used.

Secondly, letrado may also denote a lawyer who “clerks” for a judge, conducting legal research and drafting initial opinions. This is the case, for example, of the Letrados del Tribunal Constitucional and Letrados del Tribunal de Justicia de la Unión Europea, who may be described respectively as “legal counsel” (or “law clerks, “judicial clerks” or “judicial assistants”) to the (Spanish) Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union. And in a third meaning, Letrados de las Cortes Generales refers to lawyers who provide legal services to the Spanish Parliament and, as such, may perhaps be described as “parliamentary counsel” or “legal counsel/legal advisors to Parliament.”

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