The Art of Translating Legal Documents

Court-related documents, wills and statements, birth certificates, confidentiality agreements, and corporate agreements, among other documents that carry legal relevance, aren’t the easiest to translate. so you must take service of any urgent translation services. This is because their margin for error is way slimmer than other professional documents. A slight error in translation- as slight as a missing comma- can precipitate legal ambiguity and confusion.

Key Challenges of Translating Legal Documents

For starters, legal systems vary from one state/country/territory to another. Contextualizing a legal terminology in a source language and then translating it to its equivalent terminology in the target language without altering the spirit of the original document is, therefore, not exactly straightforward. Besides, one terminology can have multiple meanings in the source language, which leaves a huge room for translators to interpret the intended meaning. Translators without a strong background in international law struggle to get the right interpretation.

We already mentioned that small errors such as punctuation (same goes to syntax) in legal document translations can precipitate crisis and misunderstanding. It can cause ambiguity and reputation damages in legal battles that are too close to call. But even with that understanding, crafters of legal documents don’t make it easy for translators. They use “wooden language” that is defined by endless sentences with complex structures, multiple hyphens and apostrophes, excessive passive voice, and abnormally many semicolons and colons. They sometimes throw in the oxford comma even though it isn’t a standard punctuation sign in many languages, including English in some countries. Linguists don’t always understand this “wooden language”.

Another key challenge is the fact that laws are fluid and dynamic. They evolve constantly, systems change, and interpretations are in most cases more than not influenced by the politics of the day. That means that a new legislation today can render all translations prior to today obsolete. Legal translators need to not only understand the law as it is today but to have the expertise and experience to predict imminent changes in the industry.

Furthermore, partnering with a reputable law firm can provide valuable insights into these intricate linguistic and legal nuances. A law firm not only offers a deep understanding of the legalities but can also guide translators in navigating the ever-changing landscape of the law, ensuring the utmost accuracy and relevance in translations.

Translation Software for Legal Documents

With the mentioned challenges in mind, the art of translating legal documents can be clustered into software and human translation. Let’s first focus on software translations.

There are many online translation management systems that are built to translate legal documents fast, inexpensively, and with guaranteed confidentiality. Being computer-assisted means that multiple legal documents can be translated at a go, leaving you and your lawyers with enough time to proofread and fine-tune your translated documents. It is also very easy to spot and rectify errors in translated documents when they are still in hard copy. And thanks to Translation Memory, you can always save the translations you pay for today and reuse them in a different project without paying a dime.

Partnering With Professional Translation Firms

Human translators are a little expensive and slower compared to software translators, but they are the best bet for anyone looking for top-shelf legal documents translation. Reputable translation services hire legal experts as their legal documents’ human translators. People with an unbeatable understanding of not just the source and target languages but also the legal jurisprudences involved. They, for example, when handling immigration documents, understand the immigration and naturalization processes of the target country so well that they help their clients expedite the processes. That is a service that software translators cannot provide. 

When translating financial records, a reputable translation firm will use financial experts with a firm foundation in law so that no financial figures or legal undertext is lost in translation. Similarly, if you need to study certain materials in legal topics that you find online, you will need to have them properly translated. In this case, eLearning localization is the solution as you have experts take care of it.

Choosing the Right Legal Translation Services Provider

The bottom line is to choose translation firms that can prove to you that their translators have the legal expertise to handle your project. But there are more considerations to make when choosing a legal translator which includes:


  • Not all lawyers are good translators. Confirm that the legal experts assigned to your project are also expert linguists.
  • Which innovative tech tools is the translator using to complement human translators? Translation Memory technology, for example, can save you both money and time in future translations. The technology also ensures accuracy and consistency in translations across different sections of voluminous documents.
  • Are the translators involved, expert project managers? If they are, you are guaranteed that on top of getting the highest standards of quality, your project will be completed in good time.
  • Can your translator guarantee you value for money? Affordable isn’t always substandard and expensive isn’t always top quality.
  • In the event that you need your documents a little sooner than initially projected, can the firm provide “rush translation services”?
  • How are the firm’s confidentiality and data protection protocols? Don’t entrust your sensitive legal documents to a firm that cannot protect your documents against 3rd-party intrusion.


Final word

You now have an idea of what it will take you to translate legal documents. The pointers will only set you on your way- it is your job now to do your due diligence and find the right translator for your specific needs. And just like any other art, the art of translating legal documents has as many quacks as there are real craftsmen. Take your time and consult widely.