EU careers insider: Working as a lawyer linguist for the EU Court of Justice

by The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg

This article was written by James Metcalf, published on 3rd July 2015 and has been read 7228 times.

In this interview, James Metcalf tells us about his work as a lawyer linguist for the English Translation Department at the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg.

1. What did you study at university? Did it involve a year abroad?

I studied Law and French at university, spending my third year abroad studying French law at a university in the French Alps (the best part of my degree by far!). In addition to broken bones on the ski slopes, this degree provided me with a great opportunity to combine my passion for languages with a law degree. I thought this combination would make me more employable than if I were to study just modern languages or just law. Thankfully, I wasn’t wrong!

Having studied both French and German to A level, I was really keen to continue studying both languages throughout my degree. I kept up my German by taking evening classes offered at university during my 3 years there and subsequently applied to study a Masters degree in German law in Germany. Keeping up my German was one of the best decisions I ever made.

2. How did you start working for the EU?

Quite early on in my degree I realised that the traditional path of becoming a solicitor or barrister in the UK wasn’t really for me. I wanted to live and work abroad and to use my languages on a daily basis. The thought of working for an international organisation like the EU was right up my street. Considering myself as much a linguist as a lawyer, I decided to apply for a traineeship (stage) as a lawyer linguist at the Court of Justice of the European Union. This took me to Luxembourg where I was to spend the next 5 months of my life (or so I thought! – 10 years later, I’m still here!).

The job really suited me and was a perfect match with the skills I had acquired during my university studies. I decided to apply for an open competition with a view to becoming a lawyer linguist on a permanent basis. With nothing to lose I gave it a stab and managed to get through.

3. What is a lawyer linguist exactly?

Lawyer linguists at the Court of Justice are essentially legal translators (at the other EU institutions lawyer linguists work with the revision of legislation and translate far less). At the Court we translate a wide range of legal documents from all official languages and revise translations done by freelance translators. In any given week you could be involved in the translation of a major Court judgment, an Opinion of an Advocate General or observations made by a Member State, just to name a few examples.

4. Is there such thing as a ‘typical’ lawyer linguist?

Not really, no. We come in all shapes and sizes. Roughly half of the lawyer linguists at the Court studied a language degree and then did a law conversion course or trained to become a solicitor or barrister. Some studied law with a language, some studied just law and learned their languages either living abroad or as a hobby, and others studied something entirely different and then studied law later in their careers.

5. What would be your tips for someone interested in working as a lawyer linguist at the Court?

  • Keep working on your language skills, especially your French. To work as a lawyer linguist you need to be able to translate from 2 EU official languages into your mother tongue. Since French is the Court’s working language, one of your languages must be French.
  • Try and get some work experience in the field of translation. A great way of getting hands-on experience is to apply for a 5-month traineeship at the Court.
  • Keep trying! A number of colleagues didn’t succeed in passing an open competition on their first attempt. Hone your skills and try again! 

6. What is the best thing about your job? And what's the worst?

I would say that the best part of the job is the opportunity to work with my languages on a daily basis. In-house language training is available in all of the official languages and tuition is provided during working hours; a real perk for any linguist! I have so far had the opportunity to add both Spanish and Portuguese to my language combination and would welcome the opportunity to add another language.

There are very few negative aspects of the job, but as you ask, I guess I would like more work-related travel. Working as a lawyer linguist is very much an office job.

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