Diccionario Javier F. Becerra

Por María Fernanda Arámbula

A Review of Javier F. Becerra’s New On-line Dictionary of United States Legal Terminology – English/Spanish

Yes, it is finally here. We translators and interpreters, along with lawyers in private practice and legal scholars, can actually get our hands on this long-awaited, extremely useful tool. But, what made its author decide to go on line? When asked, Javier F. Becerra, with is well-known generosity, answered: “There were three main reasons: First, for practical purposes; one day I bumped into a former student of mine, Becky Serviansky, an interpreter, at the legal department of a major bank in downtown Mexico City and saw her carrying the two printed—and heavy— dictionaries; she told me that she never got to work without them. It was then that I realized how complicated it was to be carrying the two existing volumes from one place to another. Secondly, because technology is always one step ahead of us; new generations are no longer into printed books but more into IT, so I needed to keep up with the current technological advances. Last, but not least, the flexibility of an on-line dictionary that would allow me to make changes and corrections (in case of repeat terms, for example) and updating its content from time to time with new and interesting legal terms that had not been included in the printed version and that may prove to be useful for the readers.” These reasons can be clearly seen in the dictionary’s site map as we will see below.

In the section “Nosotros” (“Who we are”), we may find a brief introduction to what the site offers to visitors: over 22,000 terms set out in a versatile platform that not only provides definitions, but that proactively gives short explanations in the legal language commonly used in Mexico of countless legal concepts, terms and phrases of the different areas in the United States legal system.

The platform comes out to be very practical and user-friendly: you just click on the section “Diccionario” (“Dictionary”), upload the term or phrase you are searching and its equivalent immediately pops up. You can also search the term through the index.

In spite of the exhaustive and most-efficient nature of this unique work, the ever changing nature of the U.S. legal language makes this on-line version a very special tool. The section “Últimos Términos Agregados al Diccionario” (“Latest Terms Added to the Dictionary”) has been designed to allow its author—and give its users—the possibility to continue his research into complex, intriguing and sometimes preposterous legal terms and concepts that have a day-to-day use in the U.S. but not so in Mexico. In this respect, the author unpretentiously states: “I do not intend to possess the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the Mexican and the U.S. legal systems’.” He goes further by saying: “All languages are alive and constantly evolve and I continue to research the origin, historical background, former and current usage of terms that are not yet included in the dictionary and are uncommon to our legal tradition. Then, I put them into context, both ordinary and legal, and finally attempt to translate them into short words or phrases in Spanish, so that the end-user will understand not only the translated words, but their legal meaning as well.” There is also a section on “Términos Modificado Recientemente” (“Term Recently Modified”) to make corrections and adjustments to existing terms and phrases.

This effort has been going on as a side interest of mine and as an upshot of my tough and challenging legal practice dealing with major multinational companies and their U.S. legal counsel, ever since I started working for my law firm 47 years ago.” Becerra has spent all that time building up this magnificent lexicographical and terminological endeavor both as a full time bilingual attorney and also as a professor at the Escuela Libre de Derecho, a highly prestigious and important law school in Mexico City, where he has been teaching Legal English for more than 26 years now, not only to law students but also to lawyers, translators, interpreters and others interested in learning the practical aspects and complexities of the U.S. legal terminology in a workshop environment. With all that experience, the author has been able to research, contextualize, explain and translate, peculiar and frequently convoluted legal terms whose meaning are extremely difficult to draw by the uninitiated, such as “cat’s paw theory of discrimination,” “grandfather clause,” “clawback agreement,” “rabbi trust,” “make-my-day statute,” “three-strikes- and-you-are-out-law,” “Ponzi scheme”—only to mention a few examples—in order to extract their true legal content and propose efficient, high-quality translated equivalents and explanations that will enable the readers to determine whether the Spanish version(s) will fit their communication requirement. “Teaching is an enlightening experience for both professor and students, especially the open exchange of information that is always encouraged”, he said.

Nevertheless, not only does the author have an active role in this on-line effort, but also does the user. In the section “Preguntas de Usuarios” (“Questions by Users”), users are free to express their opinions tête-à-tête with the author by posing questions or stating their views on difficult legal concepts or expressions they may be dealing with, in a practically “live” two-way exchange, in fields such as Family Law, Real Estate, Corporate Law, Contracts, Labor Law, Financial Law and Assorted Topics. “It is my intention to try to give an answer in two business days at the latest, except if I am travelling” said the author.

In addition, the platform establishes contact with the user by means of a “Blog” by uploading different materials and documents related to the dictionary and to legal topics that may come in handy for all those users wishing to gain a deeper knowledge of certain subjects, such as the Spanish translation of an article written by Stephen M. Kahaner on the rules applicable to judicial interpreters in the U.S.

Moreover, both on the front page and on the “Diccionario” section, there is a button for “Ver Ejercicios de Inglés Jurídico” (“Go to Legal English Workshop Exercises”) where the author has decided to share, for free, the materials studied in his Legal English workshop at the Escuela Libre de Derecho. The initial idea is to offer in a separate platform the final versions of legal documents that have been reviewed, analyzed and translated, after a proactive information and knowledge exchange that takes place in class between lawyers, translators and interpreters, and it is also a splendid opportunity to dig deeper into the vast field of this specialized subject.

There is also another kind of contact that is established with the user of a more administrative nature. In the section “Contacto” (“Contact”), the user may have communication with the author concerning other related concerns (payments, account status, etc.) by providing their name, e- mail, and message.

On section “Mi Cuenta” (“My Account”) the user may get a general view of his or her account (Vista General de la Cuenta), edit his or her profile (Editar Perfil) or pay the usage fees (Pagos).

In order to benefit from this extraordinary array of legal knowledge, the potential user may become registered by charging to his or her credit card a $US10.00 monthly fee, a US$50.00 six- month fee, or a US$90.00 annual fee; also there is also a single corporate subscription for five to ten users at an annual fee of US$80.00 per user The investment is absolutely cost-effective and reasonable, if we consider the enormous amount of legal, lexicographical and terminological work that goes behind it, along with its author’s overwhelming effort in bringing this never-ending and essential source of information and learning to several types of professionals, including lawyers in private practice, legal scholars, law students, translators and interpreters, but especially legal translators and judicial interpreters, and—why not—general, curious users in their everyday activities.

In summary, it may be said that Javier F. Becerra’s new on-line “Dictionary of United States Legal Terminology – English/Spanish” represents a wise decision by its author in an attempt to provide further and updated legal information, concepts and terms, and to be an avant-garde, user- friendly and dynamic application that allows for a day-to-day communication between the author and the users in order to keep the legal language alive. This indispensable web page will prove to be a useful tool for legal communication with clients, audiences, courts, judges, agencies, corporate departments, public officials, etc. to be clear and efficient in terms of definitions, concepts, backgrounds, historical origins and context. So, this work should be a first-hand resource for law firms, law schools, translation firms or judicial interpreters dealing with cases involving witnesses or documents in the Spanish language, who struggle for a high-level, effective and fresh legal communication.

Finally, when asked about the Spanish-English dictionary, the author stated enthusiastically: “I am already making plans to prepare the on-line version, but believe it will probably take two more years to upload and offer it to the public. First, I have to assess the results of the English-Spanish version before taking the other one on.” It is the view of this writer of this article that it would be as successful as the present one. In the meantime, let us enjoy this enormous present while we look forward to the new one.