Mistranslations(?): “attorney-at-law”


“Attorney-at-law” has sometimes been mistranslated as licenciado en Derecho. But a licenciado en Derecho has completed an undergraduate law degree (similar to the LL.B. or “Bachelor of Laws” awarded at British universities) but may (or may not) decide to practice law. In contrast “attorney-at-law” is the term generally used in the US to denote a lawyer who is engaged in the practice of law, a “practicing attorney” (ejerciente or abogado en ejercicio). A practicing attorney must of course hold a law degree (licenciatura en Derecho) but, in fact, many licenciados en Derecho are engaged in professions other than the practice of law.

It should perhaps be noted that with the adoption of the European Union’s Bologna Process, Spanish universities have phased out their licenciatura programs and now offer a Bologna-compatible undergraduate degree called grado. Thus a law degree is now known as grado en Derecho and those who graduate in law now are called graduados en Derecho rather than licenciados.

Multiple Meanings of delación


Legal Terms with Multiple Meanings

Delación has at least two “legal” meanings, one used in criminal law contexts that would likely be familiar to non-lawyers, and one whose meaning is clearly limited to inheritance law (Derecho de sucesiones). As a criminal law term delación is a synonym of acusación or denuncia, being defined in the Diccionario del español jurídico (DEJ) as revelación de datos que permiten identificar al culpable.

But in inheritance law its meaning is quite different, delación referring to the offer of an inheritance to prospective heirs so that they may accept or reject it. Quoting a Spanish Supreme Court opinion, the DEJ explains that delación is an ofrecimiento de la herencia al heredero, que da lugar a un derecho subjetivo, ius delationis, que faculta la adquisición por la aceptación. In that regard ius delationis denotes an heir’s right to accept or reject an inheritance and, in the meantime, to take measures to preserve the deceased’s estate.

False friends (21): When an audiencia isn’t an “audience”

Oh, no! False Friends

Audiencia has at least three meanings in legal contexts in which the term cannot be translated as “audience.” First, when audiencia is a synonym for tribunal it may be translated simply as “court.” (In Spain two types of courts are referred to as “audiencias,” the Audiencias Provinciales located in each province that hear civil and criminal cases, and the Audiencia Nacional, which has nationwide jurisdiction over certain types of criminal, administrative and labor proceedings and is located in Madrid). Audiencia may also mean “hearing,” being generally synonymous in that sense with vista. Thus, audiencia pública is a “hearing in open court,” while audiencia a puerta cerrada refers to a “closed hearing” or an “in camera hearing” (now referred to as a “hearing in private” in England and Wales). In other respects, for example, when a judge issues a ruling previa audiencia de las partes, this indicates that he has considered their opinions before taking his decision. As such the expression may be translated as “having previously heard (or considered the opinions of) the parties… .”

In Spanish civil procedure audiencia previa denotes a “pretrial hearing,” a specific stage in ordinary civil proceedings (juicio ordinario) that plays a role in case management, similar to the “pretrial conference” in US practice. And, in other respects, audiencia al demandado rebelde refers to a special procedure allowing a defendant to appeal a default judgment (sentencia dictada en rebeldía) rendered in his absence when his nonappearance proved to be involuntary.

And, finally, in the context of juvenile justice, audiencia designates the trial of a minor on criminal charges that is held in a juvenile court (Juzgado de Menores). In this sense, audiencia is the juvenile justice equivalent of the trial of an adult criminal defendant (juicio oral) under the Criminal Procedure Act (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal). (For additional peculiarities of Spanish juvenile justice terminology, see https://rebeccajowers.com/2016/05/19/espanol-juridico-3/ )

Pitfalls of Spanish-English Legal Translation (II) (Non-linguistic and Cultural Aspects)

Pitfalls of Spanish-English Legal Translation(2)

As noted in previous blog entries, in March I was invited by the European Commission’s Spanish translators at the Directorate General for Translation (DGT) to give a conference on Spanish-English legal translation in Brussels and in Luxembourg. The conference has been published in three issues of puntoycoma, Boletín de los traductores españoles de las instituciones de la Unión Europea, and in the event it may prove of interest, the third installment in the latest issue of puntoycoma entitled “‘Trampas’ en la traducción del español jurídico (II) (Aspectos extralingüísticos y culturales)” is available here:


In this issue I look at some of the non-linguistic pitfalls of legal translation, including the ellipses, cryptic expressions and general legalese used by Spanish legal professionals that rarely appear in bilingual dictionaries, as well as changes in legal terminology derived from legislative reform. In addition, I examine how a translator’s own legal culture may prompt translation mistakes, with examples from Spanish criminal law and criminal procedure that could easily be misinterpreted from a common law perspective.

A previous (second) installment of this article entitled “‘Trampas’ en la traducción del español jurídico (II) (Aspectos lingüísticos) reviewed some of the most common language-based pitfalls that Spanish-English translators encounter when rendering legal concepts, including different levels of “false friends,” polysemy in legal language, the problem of legal synonyms that appear to be the “same thing with a different name,” whether to translate expressions in Latin, and differences between legal language in the US and the UK:


And the first installment of this article “Aciertos y desafíos en la traducción jurídica español-inglés” focused on four specific aspects of Spanish-English legal translation: “Traducciones que sí ‘encajan’” (concepts of Spanish law that fortunately have a close “functional equivalent” in Anglo-American law); “Traducciones (dudosas) generalmente aceptadas” (a controversial topic concerning generally-accepted renderings that are actually mistranslations in certain contexts); “Traducciones inventadas” (a look at a couple of invented translations that, nevertheless, appear in Internet publications and elsewhere; and “Traducciones imposibles” (which addresses the problem of translating legal terms that have no corresponding concept in Common Law):