In most legal proceedings in Spain it is mandatory that a party be defended by an abogado (or) letrado (“lawyer;” “attorney”) and represented by a procurador who serves as a liaison between the lawyer, client and court, filing pleadings and other documents, receiving court orders and generally checking up on the status of the cases assigned to him. There is no equivalent in Anglo-American courts, and procurador has been mistranslated variously as “lawyer,” “attorney,” “barrister,” “solicitor,” “legal representative,” and even “paralegal” (!), among others.
But let’s look at some of these suggested translations. Procurador can’t be accurately rendered as either “lawyer,” “attorney” or “barrister” because, although procuradores hold law degrees, they do not defend clients in court as do lawyers/attorneys and barristers (as mentioned above, that’s the job of abogados/letrados). “Solicitor” is also a mistranslation when chosen to render procurador. If you need a contract drawn up, want to make a will or require legal counsel, in England and Wales you call a solicitor. Procuradores provide no such services. In fact, procuradores are generally hired by the lawyers themselves and rarely have direct contact with clients. “Legal representative” is also a poor choice, since the expression denotes any person who has been empowered to act on behalf of another, and is not necessarily a lawyer. Persons holding power of attorney (poder de representación) or appointed as executors (albacea) of a will are legal representatives. And as fully qualified lawyers procuradores certainly cannot be characterized as paralegals (con todos mis respetos por los paralegals).
Thus the difficulty is to find an appropriate translation for procurador, and I admit that over the years I have changed my mind a couple of times as to how to best render the term. I initially decided on “court representative,” but this translation may be misleading. Indeed, in the context of providing legal defense for a client in court, representación and “representation” are not cognates. In English (among many other meanings) “representation” refers to one’s being represented by a lawyer in court (“representation by counsel”). In Spain, however, representación generally refers to one’s being represented in court by a procurador, while representation by counsel (asistencia letrada) is known variously as defensa, defensa técnica, dirección técnica or sometimes asistencia técnica. A party is said to be representada en juicio por el Procurador de los Tribunales XXX y defendida (or) asistida por el Letrado YYY. Thus Spanish clients are “represented” in court by procuradores and “defended” by their abogados/letrados, and the expression representación y defensa is most often simply a synonym for procurador y abogado/letrado. In short, referring to procuradores as “court representatives” might prompt a miscue, since in Anglo-American courts lawyers both represent and defend their clients.
I later thought that perhaps “court agent” would be an appropriate rendering for procurador. But “court agent” might be interpreted to mean “agent of the court” suggesting that procuradores are actually personnel employed by the courts, which is certainly not the case. For now I have settled on “party agent,” (procuradores being agents who represent parties at court), but I am certainly aware that this expression doesn’t fully convey the meaning of the term (and I would welcome other suggestions!). Several colleagues have recommended adding a “Translator’s Note” indicating that procuradores are a feature of the Spanish judicial system and serve as intermediaries between lawyers and the court.
N.B. The Spanish procurador de los tribunales should not be confused with the term procurador as used in Mexico. In Mexico procurador is “prosecutor” (fiscal in Spain), and, thus, for US audiences and in this context the term is often rendered as “district attorney” or “D.A.”.