Legal Document Translation Complexities

Achieve quality translation without overestimating the abilities of translators

LEgal Document Translation balance with world map

Hands up if you know about the complexities of legal document translations.

If your hand is down, you’re not alone.

The translation of legal documents isn’t exactly an everyday conversation. This is partly because translating legal documents in foreign languages is more complicated than other technical translations.

Due to the nature of legal documents, their translation can be a very demanding process. Keep reading to find out why quality and experience are important with legal document translation. We’ll show you how to achieve it.

A Tough Job

Translators have a tough job. There’s no two ways about it.

The art of translation is more nuanced than simply taking text written in one language and transferring it into another. For this reason, a translator’s job requires many skills.

When it comes to legal translations, translators need a toolbox of skills. A translator proficient in two languages simply won’t cut it. In the field of legal translating services, they need more than this. We’ll explain why this is further on in the article.

Each country has, not only its own legal system but its own specific legal terminology. Even if two countries speak the same language, the chances are that the legal terms and laws differ significantly.

It’s clear then that numerous, varied skills are required in the complex world of translation. In the legal world, there’s no room for error. Translators, therefore, face serious challenges when assigned legal translations.

There are high expectations of legal translators. Either they must live up to them or find a new niche.

Background & Expertise

A legal translator must, therefore, have competencies in a few areas. These include the target language’s particular writing style and familiarity with unique terminology. What is also very helpful is excellent general knowledge of the legal systems of the target languages. Furthermore, a good understanding of the legal system in the originating country is a must to understand the source text.

A professional translator of legal documents must be part legal scholar, detective, and linguist. A huge amount of research is necessary in order for the translator to decode the source and gauge its actual meaning.

Importantly, the meaning, can under no circumstances, deviate from the original intended meaning. This is the case even if an exact translation isn’t possible.

Legal Document Translation

It comes as no surprise then that legal document translation is the most challenging kind of translation.

Therefore, legal jargon needs the translation services of an expert that’s highly knowledgeable in legal terms and practices. It’s essential that legal documents receive correct, flawless translation.

Many types of documents require legal translation. Business contracts, service agreements, end user license agreements (EULA), application letters, deposition records, evidence documents, litigation materials and patent filings are some examples.

Due to the varied nature of the documents, translators must have general knowledge of legal terminology. They’re also required to be familiar with statutory requirements.  Along with this, they should have a firm grasp on the legal intricacies of foreign cultural systems.

Source Text vs Target Text

There are some key points regarding legal source and target text to keep in mind when doing legal translation.

The source text is structured to follow a legal system that sticks to its own legal culture and language. The target text, in contrast, is read by another person familiar with a different language and legal parlance.

All individuals and organizations involved in the translation must stick to their designated and defined rights and duties.

It’s critical that professionals deliver precisely in both the source and target texts opens in a new window.

In addition, remember that the linguistic structures of the source language may have different direct equivalents in the target language. It’s, therefore, the responsibility of the translator to find a suitable language structure as similar as possible to the source text.

High Standards

You must account for a range of factors when talking about the legal translation of documents. Confidentiality is one of the most important of these. Due to the highly sensitive content of legal documents, it’s a critical issue.

When the court needs a legal document, time becomes of essence. There’s simply no room for delays. The strict deadlines mean that translators need to be exceptionally time conscious and organized.

It’s essential that the translator understands where the translation will ultimately be used. This has a critical impact on the approach when translating the document.

In addition, remember that when the source text isn’t well written, it’s the responsibility of the translator to decide on the next steps. They at times translate it into something as vague as the original. This is particularly if they cannot get clarification from the author on the intended meaning. Alternatively, they can improve the writing while maintaining the original meaning.

The USCIS Document Translation Process

USCIS translation certification requirements are very specific.

USCIS requires submissions of “certified translations for all foreign language documents.”

For a translation to be certified according to USCIS standards, the translator must certify that they’re up to the high standards of the industry. Therefore, they’re deemed competent to translate. 

The translator requires a formal statement in which they show they’ve accurately translated a foreign-language document into English. Any foreign language document must come with a full English translation. The translator must certify it’s complete and correct.

Today there are language service companies that are exceptional at preparing certified translations. They can quickly provide documents that meet or exceed USCIS translation requirements.

A good company will review your documents, provide a certificate of translation sample and include a statement from the translator attesting to its accuracy. They’ll also have these documents notarized.

The Next Steps

After reading this, it’s clear that translation, in general, is already a complex process involving a range of specific skills.

Translating legal documents is more exacting, as the ramifications of even the slightest mistake will involve a complex legal process for it to be reversed.

It’s pretty clear that only highly experienced translators are capable of effective legal document translation. For top-quality translation, you’ll need the support and guidance of a multi-talented team.

We however always recommend that you have your in-country attorney or legal counsel verify the translated content before its use. Translators are not lawyers, they are simply translators and are compensated accordingly.

If you’re seeking reliable, highly-skilled legal translations, then you’re probably wondering about the next steps. Please contact us to find out more about our team of professional translators, expert linguists, and engineers.


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