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What is Legal Translation and What Makes it Different?

What is Legal Translation and What Makes it Different?
on June, 28 2017

Legal translation, like any other type of translation work, is the replacement of the source language with the target language. However, legal translation is different because law is culture-dependent.

It uses content and terms within the legal system prevailing in the country where the source document originated. As the world becomes more globalized, the need for legal translation escalates.

Aside from the language barriers, the differences in legal systems make legal translation very complex.

There are countries where there is a clear division between secular and religious law. But in other countries, these two laws are not clearly separated.

In Saudi Arabia, the country's legal system is greatly organized around the laws of Islam, but the government also added some secular codes because of the country's desire to be a major player in global business. Morocco on the other hand has a legal system that is a combination of French law and Islamic law.

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What is Legal Translation?

Trying to understand what is involved in legal translation? It is more complex than standard or regular translation that needs straightforward (transposition) writing.

Legal translation is required to use the official language of the pertinent jurisdiction, thus it covers a wide variety of texts. It can be identity documentation, financial documents, official reports, transcripts, filed patents, precedents and legal rulings and witness statements. Legal translation is also needed for immigration documents, litigation papers, articles of incorporation, wills and trusts.

Translation services for legal documents must only be done by specialists/subject matter experts (SMEs) with deep knowledge of the laws of the source and target countries/languages to avoid mistranslations.

Regulations for Legal Translators

Each country has its own set of regulations for legal translators. In many countries, legal translators must have a degree in business and legal translation. In Argentina and Brazil, legal translators must be certified by the state. Countries like The Netherlands, Sweden and Spain require translators to swear legal oaths. Moreover, they are regularly examined to ensure their good practice and proficiency. They are also centrally regulated. In Italy however, all legal translations must be certified/notarized by a professional legal practitioner.

The situation is different in the United Kingdom and the United States. These two countries are not very strict about accreditation of legal translators. Many language services providers (LSPs) provide certificates of accuracy if requested by the client. Some join trade associations and independent bodies that offer membership and qualifications, to signify accreditation. It is also used as a quality benchmark.

Related Post: Legal Translator Tips for International Law in Latin America


What Makes Legal Translation Different?

Still in the dark as to what legal translation is? As mentioned, it is one of document translation's most complex forms. Mistakes, ambiguity or misinterpretation, no matter how small, have no place in legal translation because the translated document can become void. Further, there are huge legal and financial complications that can result due to even a simple error.

Adding to the complexity of legal translation is its unique terminology, coupled with cultural factors and difference in language. In legal translation, it is not just about replacing a word with another. The translator must transpose the legal concepts into another language. Because of difference in legal expressions and traditions, the translator must be very specific about what language to use within the target jurisdiction.

There is a specific type of language in legal text and if a judge or a lawyer sees that wrong words were used, the entire translation may no longer be trusted. Moreover, the translator must fit the purpose of the legal translation. There is a difference between legally binding legalese and legal translation for public consumption.

Anyone familiar will legal text understands that legalese is wordy. Legal English contains different subjects and the sentence structures are usually compound and complex. The tone for legal English is very formal and it is usual for legal documents to be written in the passive voice. It can be challenging for a translator to translate a passive voice to an active voice, as some foreign languages are.

Related Post: The Difficulties of Legal Translations Explained


Legal Translation: What Is It?

Human Translators Required

Legal translation requires a very high degree of accuracy, which cannot be delivered by machine translation. It's because legal documents are used as official papers for any legal documentation, e.g., for scholarly writings, contracts, birth certificates, affidavits and court evidence.

Translation automation is not advised because of the complexity of the two legal systems involved. Direct translations are not possible because these may not make sense to the target reader. The legal translator must ensure that the titles, reasoning and technical terms are valid legally.

The legal expressions in the source language many not have specific equivalent in the target language. In such cases, conceptual equivalents are used, which machines cannot produce. There may be instances when the exact legal expression from the source language must be included in the translation, along with the paraphrase of the expression for emphasis.

Legal translation takes time to produce, as it is not the easiest form of translation work. It requires the highest degree of accuracy. It is important for the client to work with a professional language services provider that has legal translation expertise as well as years of experience in the subject.

Remember that a single error costs money plus other legal ramifications. For more information, you can read about our legal translation services here.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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