Legal translation is incredibly complicated. Just think about the last time you read a legal document:

Was the language clear? Was it filled with the sort of phrases you’d use every day?

Probably not!

What’s more, imagine a legal document in a different language written by someone from a different culture – part of a legal code altered by hundreds of years of completely separate history as well as linguistics.

Bridging the gap between those two different languages and two different legal systems is complicated enough. But legal translators also know that their work needs to be perfect…

Because even tiny translation errors can result in huge costs later down the line.

All of this gives legal translation a challenge and complexity which matches the importance of its role…

What is legal translation?

On a basic level, legal translation is the translation of text and documents for legal or judicial purposes.

The complexity starts to arise when you start to consider what that really means:

Because the words and phrases being used here aren’t those which a person – even a native-speaker of the language in question – will use every day.

Instead, these are the terms and content used – sometimes exclusively – in the legal system of that specific country or jurisdiction.

If you have ever looked at the legal terminology of your own country (sometimes referred to as “legalese”, as it can often look like a truly separate language), you will see how different a legal document can be from any other.

It might be written in the passive voice, have a high degree of formality and/or be written in compound and complex sentences.

Translating this incredibly complicated document into another language so that it’s clear and legible to someone who only knows the target language and legal system is the true challenge of legal translation.

Why is legal translation so complicated?

Legal translation jobs are amongst the most challenging in the localisation industry. Some of the main reasons for this are:

1) Cultural differences

Each legal system is a product of the society which it was created to serve. This means that cultural and social influences, the history of a region or culture and the way it evolved – as well as a unique linguistic structure, sometimes based on dialects or older versions of a language – are usually built-in.

This means that a legal translator will need a deep understanding of both the source and target cultures if they are to successfully translate any legal document.

2) Legal differences

Some laws – and some legal terminology – simply have no equivalent.

The linguist will need to switch back and forth, constantly referring to the source and target legal codes in order to accurately translate what has been written.

Picture a completely secular legal system meeting one based on religious law. Or a system which has aspects of both meeting a similar one, yet one which is based on a different religion or a different secular culture.

The potential for legal differences is massive.

3) Stylistic differences

People who half-jokingly refer to “legalese” or “legal speak” often do so with good reason:

Legal language has a style all of itself. Or rather, each legal code has a legal language which usually has a style all of itself.

This is a huge challenge to translate into a new language if you don’t have experience or qualifications – or preferably both – in both the source and target jurisdictions.

4) Language differences

The differences between languages will obviously affect the difficulty of the overall translation effort.

Two relatively similar languages may help to make a linguist’s work easier, while two dramatically different languages – such as English and Chinese – will increase the difficulty.

5) Degrees of separation

The degree to which each of these differences is present will combine to create the overall complexity of a project.

Picture two languages which are relatively similar and two legal systems which have a great deal in common. This may make for a – relatively speaking – easier project.

Even if the languages are closely related, two legal systems which are very unalike will make the translation a challenge.

If both the languages and legal systems involved are dramatically different…

Well, a legal translator’s salary tends to be high for some very good reasons.

What different types of legal translation are there?

Just some of the documents which will require legal translation services include:

1) Immigration documents

Immigration documents are some of the most common legal documents which require translation.

They are often also helpful for people who are emigrating for more than just legal purposes. They can also help individuals understand their rights more fully.

2) Litigation documents

You may need litigation documents or a summary of litigation to be available for you to view in a different language.

Most commonly, this is required by legal professionals seeking to understand relevant cases to help their clients succeed.

3) Contract translation

Business contracts are another of the popular reasons legal translation services are called upon.

Making sure that all parties involved in an international deal can see a clear, accurate version of the contract in their mother tongue before signing dramatically increases the odds that a partnership will be amicable long into the future.

Legal contract translations also play a major role in later conflict disagreements and dispute. This makes a high degree of accuracy vital.

4) Intellectual Property documents

Protecting your brand’s IP is a critical step to take when you start trading internationally. Otherwise, you leave yourself open to having your ideas accidentally copied or outright stolen.

Having your IP documents properly translated first – and registered in the region where applicable – is a smart step to take to protect yourself in the future.

5) Financial documents

Documents such as bank and investment agreements are prime candidates for translation.

While the numbers need to stay the same, the language surrounding them will usually need to be localised in order for them to make any sense.

6) Market research into local laws

Different regions and jurisdictions place different obligations on business owners. Doing proper legal market research before moving into a new market ensures that you follow the local legal system.

For example, Chinese market entry requires a decision as to which type of business will be best for you to operate in the region.

But even things like advertising often have their own laws attached:

For instance, in some provinces of Canada, your advertising must be written in the local French dialect as well as English.

All of the research you do and the advice you receive should be translated for your department heads and often your team as a whole. This information will help your sales team toe the line when it comes to consumer rights legislation, by way of illustration.

7) Corporate documents

A wide variety of corporate documents, from process descriptions to agreements and partnership documents need to be translated for different regions to avoid confusion.

When you are working with a multilingual, multinational team, clear business communication is more important than ever.

8) Terms and conditions

All Terms and Conditions linked to your services, products and policies need to be properly translated and localised so that they make sense for your local audience – and comply with local legal statutes.

Just as they do in your home market, these inform your clients of their rights and obligations, confirm how you are allowed to handle your data (especially relating to GDPR) and serve as protection for you in the event of future legal action.

How to get the best legal document translation

When you need legal document translation, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you get the result you are looking for – and ensure the process works as smoothly as possible:

1) Think about your document

Even the brief list above should show you just how much variety there can be when it comes to legal documents.

Some can be relatively straightforward. Others are packed with densely-worded legalese.

When you are planning on hiring a Language Service Provider to handle the translation of your document, you need to consider:

  • Your type of document
  • What you need to use it for (internal reference, a legal case?)
  • Who your audience for the translation is going to be (a government body, consumers?)
  • Is it legally binding?

Knowing the answer to these questions will be important if you want to get an accurate quote and timeframe for delivery before finalising your service.

2) Think about the knowledge and experience you need

For almost all legal document translations, you will need specialist translators.

Not only will they need knowledge and experience of the relevant legal jurisdictions, but they should also have expertise in the specific field of law your document relates to, for instance:

  • Banking and finance
  • Insurance
  • Intellectual Property
  • Litigation
  • Private equity
  • Real estate
  • Tax law

At Asian Absolute, for example, we only ever use translators who are qualified to Masters degree-level and/or have five or more years of experience in the specific field of law you need.

3) Think about providing more information

You will make it far easier for your translation team – and be far more likely to get the perfect outcome – if you provide additional resources for them to use.
This might include:

  1. Source files in a suitable format: Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) tools have revolutionised the language service industry. They will save you both time and money on your project while increasing accuracy. In order for these tools to work properly though, your human translator needs the files you provide to be searchable. This means hard copies or PDF format files are much harder to work with. If that’s all you have, consider re-typing into a different format or using Optical Character Recognition technology. This produces actual text from a scanned document.
  2. Style guides and glossaries of terms: these are equally important for legal documents as they are elsewhere. Brand guidelines, formatting, style guides and any specific details or requirements for your new region are important to get across to your Language Service Provider.

4) Think about what happens after

The review phase is critical in any translation project. You will need to ensure that the review of your project is being handled by senior linguists who have intimate knowledge of the specific dialect and region in question – as well as the relevant legal systems.

Certified, legalised and notarised translations

The output of a great deal of legal translation work is intended for internal use, for reference or discussions between companies.

But a large quantity is going to be read by governing bodies and other authorities who will want to see proof that the translation is authentic.

This is where certified, legalised and notarised translation come in:

Certified translation

A certified translation comes with a signed statement from your translator or Language Service Provider stating that the target document is an accurate translation of the original.

In many parts of the world, there is no requirement that a translator is certified to any standard in order to provide a certified translation.

Notarised translation

A notarised translation is roughly similar to a certified translation, except for the fact that the signing of the certificate needs to happen in front of a special government official.

Usually called a notary public, this official may require a translator to swear an oath or sign an affidavit or statement to attest to the accuracy of their work.

The notary does not usually have any translation expertise themselves. Instead, a notarised translation ensures that the linguist’s identity is valid. This is what guarantees the quality of a translator’s work.

Legalised translation

Also known as Apostilled translation, legalised translation takes advantage of an international agreement called the Hague Convention. In the convention, all signatory countries agree to accept the notarised translations of each other’s officials as if they were their own.

Thus, if your source and target regions are both in the Hague Convention, you may simply need an Apostille document to get your translation accepted in multiple jurisdictions.Legal translation services – complicated justice” Legal translation work might be complicated. But it’s ultimately necessary for international justice and international business alike.

If you follow the advice here when planning your legal translation services – and you do so with an understanding of the complexity involved – you will be all set for success.

Whether that success is emigrating with confidence or protecting your company when moving into a new market is up to you.Do you need to know more about legal translation?

Comment below if you have a question. We’ll answer you quickly.

Alternatively, contact us directly for an informal chat about your project – or to get a free, no-obligation quote.