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Translation Service Guide - The Basics of Legal Translation

Day Translations - Legal Document Translation
Translation Service Guide - The Basics of Legal Translation
on February, 16 2015

Day Translations - Legal Document Translation

One of the many types of language services is legal translation, which translates texts within the realm of the law. As the field of law is dependent on culture, professional translators who specialize in legal translation are the only ones who should do the translation of legal documents and texts related to the field. The work should be exact, as a single mistranslation in a contract could result in financial losses and lawsuits.

In legal translation, the translator should be highly aware of the fact that the legal system used in the original document conforms to the writer's culture, which is applied in the legal language used. Conversely, the translated text will be read by persons familiar with another language and legal system. When translating legal materials especially contracts, it is important to establish certain individuals' specific duties and rights so that accurate correspondence of these duties and rights in the source and target texts are correctly transmitted.

Legal translation involves several written documents, such as immigration documents, statements of witnesses, wills, trusts, depositions, litigation documents, articles of incorporation, and exhibit/property labels. It could also be about certificates of accuracy. Translator attendance in court could be required in some cases.

A legal translator should be very familiar with legal terminologies as well as lexical gaps. Since the conventions within the text in the source language are dependent on the writer's culture, these might not correspond to the conventions dictated by the culture of the target language. Likewise, the linguistic structures in the source language might not have an equivalent in the target language. The translator must be aware of the cultural, social and linguistic equivalence of both languages.

Skills needed

Legal translation is a specialized field and requires several skills from the translator, such as:

  • Full mastery of the source and target languages
  • In-depth knowledge of the legal systems of two cultures
  • Proper knowledge of the sub-areas of the relevant laws
  • Cognizance of subject matter and other relevant disciplines (occupations, businesses)
  • Good training in translation study or work

Uniqueness of legal language

All of the above reflects the legal language's uniqueness. As David Crystal, a noted author, linguist and academic posit, stated, legal language shares something with science and religion. It requires precision and coherence as well as a respect for historical and ritual tradition. Legal language has to be paraphrased so that general applicability could be utilized; yet it also needs to be specific to the case. There should be stability in the language so that the treatment of cases could be fair and consistent. However, the legal language should also be flexible to adapt to newer situations. Moreover, it should be ensured that the language being used expresses the law's intention to respect the duties and rights of people.

On the matter of legal English, David Crystal stated that there are sub-varieties in legal English that reflect the different roles it plays. The language used in legal documents such as regulations, wills, insurance policies, deeds and contracts are different. There is another set of legal English for works of legal references that are used for indexing and footnotes. Another set is used for legal cases. There is also a different language used in the courtroom that involves the courtesies reserved for court officials, counsels and judges, as well as the defined constraints on what is allowed to be said or not and what could be taken as evidence.


Legal translation services are required by various industries, ranging from communication, technology and media to education, insurance, finance, and life sciences to real estate. It is also to be understood that law firms have different practice areas, thus their legal translation requirements are different. Some of the practice areas include antitrust, banking and finance, dispute resolution, employment and benefits, insurance, intellectual property, private equity, real estate and litigation.

It is not easy to do legal translations because legal documents have technical details and legal terminologies that are quite complex. Likewise, legal translators are of a different breed, since it has become standard for the translator to be knowledgeable about technical documents, must have a firm understanding of specific laws, and above all, must always keep in mind that every phrase, hidden meaning and nuance should be kept as accurate as possible.

Sean Patrick Hopwood

Sean Patrick Hopwood is a lover of languages, peace, progress, education, and positivity. Speaking 6 languages, English, Spanish, French, Arabic, German, Portuguese and Hebrew, he has shown a love of cultures since childhood. He is currently the C.E.O. of Day Translations, Incorporated. Follow Sean in Facebook, Google+, or visit his website at

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