4 Things you need to know about legal translation

Some may think that legal translation lies solely in the remit of high-flying, suited and booted lawyers and big court cases. This isn’t quite the case, and you might be more likely to need legal translation services than you think. You probably already know that you can’t just leave your document in the hands of any bilingual person, or even any translator. Whether you’re translating as a courtesy or as a legal requirement, only experts should be entrusted with the task.

Legal translation is a very specialised sector, so your translator should have a deep understanding of the sub-section of law relevant to your document along with experience of dealing with your document type. The industry includes a wide range of documents: contracts, agreements, warranty information, data protection and GDPR, software licences, legal letters, internal regulations and terms and conditions… but the list really is endless.

But why is it so difficult to get right? In most legal documents, every single word carries a lot of meaning, therefore every single word must be translated in just the right way. What’s more, legal translation mistakes can be costly: a small word could make or break a business deal, application or court case. And as the British Government unfortunately found out, these mistakes can also be embarrassing. Here’s our best advice to help you to avoid unfortunate mistakes and their consequences.

Tip 1: Choose the right translator

Choosing the right translator seems like an obvious first step to get right, but there are a few things to keep in mind, and a few questions you might want to ask. A legal translator does not need to be a qualified lawyer, and usually they aren’t. They should, however, be professional linguists with extensive knowledge of the relevant legal systems, legal terminology and the particularities of translating your type of document.

Professional qualifications such as university degrees in law or in translation can be helpful indicators of quality, but they are not the only such indicators. ISO standards are another helpful mark of quality of a translation provider. There are skills and attributes that we recommend looking for in your legal translation provider, which could be demonstrated by experience, certifications or qualifications.

The right language combination is obviously important, but you should also ensure that your legal translator is familiar with the workings of the legal system in the country you need. The legal systems in the UK, the US and Australia are very different, so it will not be enough to know that you need a document translating into English. It may also help if your translator can demonstrate their ongoing studies in their craft – in any country, laws and regulations can change regularly and it’s important that your translator keeps up to date with these changes.

If your translation should be legally binding, you might need an official or certified translation. These systems and certifications differ depending on the countries involved, so make sure to check with the relevant authorities and guidelines if you’re unsure. For example, the UK does not require legal translators to have ‘sworn’ status, whereas civil law countries require official translations to be done by sworn translators who have been appointed and accredited by the relevant government authorities.

One of the best ways to find a quality translation provider is to ask your colleagues whether they have ever worked with a provider before, and whether they would recommend them. If this isn’t an option, ask a potential translation provider to supply you with client testimonials. You can also ask them what kind of work they’ve done in the past, and whether they have ever translated documents like yours. If you are in touch with a language service provider, ask what selection criteria they have for assigning legal translators for your project.

Planet Languages has a team of professional translators with many years of experience and legal expertise who will translate your documents quickly and accurately, so you can rest assured that your business transactions and assets are protected.

Tip 2: Provide reference materials

The legal field is one rich with specialised jargon and terminology. Legal documents are often written in very particular ways to avoid creating unwanted legal loopholes or issues. This is where terminology management comes in. We recommend that any source file issues are resolved before the document is sent: a lot of legal documents only exist in paper copy and scanning a PDF can cause issues with glossary creation and translation memory . If possible, type out the document into an editable format, such as a Word document.

When we talk about terminology management, it tends to be about the building of translation glossaries, or term bases . These glossaries are large documents, often in Microsoft Word or Excel, which include extra information about your business’ key terminology. They often include specific instructions for how certain words are to be handled. For legal translation, these terms are even more precise, and businesses might have rules and preferences for how the text should be presented.

Whichever translation provider you choose, they should be able to help and to advise you with the creation of a translation glossary. Even if you would prefer not to create one, providing reference materials such as previous translations or corporate documents to your translation provider would also help you to get the best-quality translation.

Terminology management in legal translation can be very beneficial. While legal documents need to be clear and concise, there’s another important C: consistency. Inconsistent language in your business documentation could result in a lack of clarity in your translation, which runs the risk of legal consequences. Standardising your approach to terminology will also help enhance your company image and SEO standing.

Tip 3: Consider your translation needs

Our next tip for you would be to carefully consider exactly what kind of translation service you need. When approaching a legal translation provider, there are more options than you may think. Ask them to explain the available options to you, so you can be sure that the service provided will fit closely with your needs, budget and deadline.

For example, one of your business partners wants to see a business contract and English is not their first language. This translation isn’t legally binding, and its main purpose is overall comprehension. You’d be best asking for a ‘gist translation’, so that translator knows to use less specialised terminology, and include extra explanations where necessary. This type of translation could be especially beneficial should you find yourself low on time and budget.

If you find yourself with these limitations but need more than a gist translation, consider looking into a partial translation of the document. However, this might be tricky if the original document is in a language that you don’t speak, as the chances are increased that you might miss an important section. If the document is going to be legally binding, check whether a full translation is needed or whether it needs to be certified or sworn by a translator following specific government guidelines.

Tip 4: Quality assurance is key!

The importance of meticulous quality assurance (QA) cannot be overstated. Language professionals define QA as the process put in place to check that a translation is a true reflection of the original text, uses the correct terminology and is free from spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes.

For the most part, this quality assurance is the responsibility of your translation provider. When choosing your translation provider, ask what QA process they have in place, and whether the translation will be revised by a second legal translation expert before it is delivered to you.

If the deadline allows for a further QA step, you might consider sending the translation to a third party who is a native speaker of the target language and who is also familiar with the legal system. They don’t have to be a translator; they could be a lawyer themselves or work in the legal system. A third (or fourth) pair of professional eyes will ensure that the final version will not create any legal problems due to wording or syntax.

There’s a lot to think about. There can be a lot at stake with legal translation, and if you don’t speak the language of the translation it can be hard to know whether you’re getting the quality you’ve been promised. Planet Languages only works with professional, highly experienced translators and uses meticulous quality assurance processes with every project, so that you can rest assured of a high-quality translation delivered on time, every time.