Shiori Yamamoto, LL.M.

My Experiences as an In-House Paralegal and Legal Translator

Legal Translation as a Legal Profession

When I started my career as an in-house legal translator at a law firm ten years ago, little was I aware of the exciting journey the profession would eventually bring about for me. Having had the valuable opportunity to earn an LLM degree (masters of law degree) in US law at Temple Law School, the only ABA-accredited US law school with a campus in Japan, while working full time as an in-house paralegal and legal translator at my workplace (Uryu & Itoga, a Japanese law firm mainly engaged in corporate affairs), the perspectives from which I am able to view my professional environment, as well as my professional legal work, have undergone a drastic change.

Previously, translating legal contracts (whether from Japanese into English or from English into Japanese) was an automatic task for me, changing the legal terms and concepts into another language without much room for deep thought. Now, when I read contracts drafted in English, whether when doing legal translation or performing contract or legal document review as a paralegal, I am able to better understand the entire structure of the contract, and am able to provide some insights, sometimes comments or proposals, in the drafting process against the backdrop of the actual transaction underlying the legal document. These insights I am now able to provide in addition to my previously obtained comprehension of the English language and common law concepts based upon my understanding of the Anglo-American common law. For instance, when I read contracts drafted in English involving real estate transactions governed by the laws of US states, I am better able to understand the relationship between the landlord and the tenant, and what potential issues and problems may surface between these parties in the course of entering into an agreement or performing complicated transactions involving multiple parties.

In addition, I am now better aware of the circumstances surrounding US law school and the US legal society and profession, having had the opportunity to become acquainted with many American JDs as well as attorneys admitted in US states through my studies at Temple Law School. I was able to have a glimpse of the law school education experienced by American JD students, and deepen my understanding of the educational and societal issues faced by the American legal profession. This view gave me a multifaceted perspective, since as a paralegal working at a Japanese law firm I am also much aware of the severe circumstances nowadays faced by the Japanese legal profession in terms of education, admission to the bar, and employment at law firms or corporations, not to mention professional life after embarking on a career. These experiences gave me insights into the legal society both in Japan and the US, which helps me when I engage in discussions with legal professionals both in Japan and the US or other countries. My personal experiences in exchanging opinions and engaging in discussions with Japanese and foreign legal professionals have become far richer.

The experiences gained at US law school and the law firm both enrich my life as a paralegal and legal translator, not only in terms of legal expertise constantly exhibited through my daily work at the workplace, but also in terms of engaging in societal activities and personal exchange as a human being forming a part of the legal profession. I feel that my career as a paralegal and legal translator is very much fulfilling for me, and that my daily work life is enjoyable, intellectually stimulating, and with a purpose.

Note: This article was originally published in "Translator Perspectives 2016" and has been republished with permission from the Japan Association of Translators.