Blog – It’s All About Language

Legal language is precise, and every word matters. There is no room for error or ambiguity. Legal translations are not just about replacing one word with another. The translator must also transpose legal concepts into another language.

So, what exactly is legal translation? Like other types of translation work, legal translation replaces the source language with the target language, respecting the original meaning. But it’s more complex than that.

There is a direct link between the quality of translated material and the responsibilities and liabilities of all parties involved. If not translated correctly, any word could become the source of a legal dispute. This makes the job of translating legal documents much more demanding than other fields of translation.

Legal translation covers a wide range of documents and texts. They include witness statements, financial records, litigation papers, legal rulings, corporate documents, patents, copyright and trademarks, legal disclaimers, licences, depositions, and more.

This article will focus on what makes legal translations so different and why they are essential.

You Need 100% Accuracy

Accuracy is crucial in any translation work, but legal translations demand more. Simply put, you cannot afford to make a mistake when translating legal documents. Even one mistranslated word could change a document’s tone and meaning, potentially exposing your organisation to liabilities and resulting in a lawsuit and possible financial loss.

In 2019 Mexico’s central bank nearly caused a panic when it wrongly translated the minutes of a rate-setting meeting from Spanish to English. The translated document contained the words “in whatever direction is required.” Some analysts took this to mean that the board might cut interest rates. It was not planning to do this.

When it comes to business agreements between companies in different countries, contracts must read the same in both languages. If not, there will be confusion, disputes, delays, and extra expense because of a flawed legal translation.

There’s another downside to mistranslations, and that’s the hit to your reputation. Mistakes in documents look clumsy and unprofessional, which will affect your credibility.

You Need Expertise in the Law

Whereas machine translations can be helpful with some general texts, they cannot be relied on for important legal documents. The language of the law as well as legal terminology are complicated and highly technical. Each legal system is unique and, therefore, different. Even different regions within a country can have their own legal requirements.

In some instances, laws and codes created by one country don’t have an equivalent in the target language. Legal systems are not clones of each other. Many terms and concepts in one legal system do not exist in another. If you translate a legal term literally, it may have a meaning in one legal system that it does not have elsewhere.

Therefore, the translator will need to recreate the concept attached to the legal expression. This is known as transcreation, a re-interpretation of the original concept while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context. It is highly technical work.
A legal translator must have a strong command of the source and target legal systems to understand the exact meaning of each clause.

To Adhere to Court Requirements

Foreign language documents submitted to a court will almost always require a certified translation. The purpose is to demonstrate the translated work is true, accurate, and a word-for-word translation of the source material and that a professional legal translator translated it. Examples of documents related to a case include bank statements, eyewitness accounts, emails and text messages. If the material is mistranslated, it could be ruled inadmissible, which may even result in the collapse of a trial.

The Law Isn’t Static

Across the globe, new legal terms appear all the time. professional legal translators never stop learning. They’re across changes in their areas of expertise and their source and target countries.

To Adhere to Legal Formatting Rules

Formatting matters when working with legal documentation. The translated work must mirror exactly the source document. All stamps, seals and signatures should be placed in the same order as the original. However, some countries have different ways of formatting their legal papers. If there are differences, the formatting has to be adapted.

To Protect Your Interests

Whether covering personal or business matters, legal documents should safeguard your interests. Having them translated by a professional legal translator should ensure no problems crop up in the future.

Final Thoughts

Legal terms are challenging to decode – even for native speakers. You’ll know what we mean if you’ve ever looked at the small print of any document or a product’s terms and conditions. Legal texts are often packed with specialized and arcane terms that laypeople don’t recognise. It’s not enough to have a bilingual person translate them. You need a qualified legal translator.

The stakes are too high to have your documents worked on by a generalist or a machine when it comes to the law. A document translated by Google Translate or a friend will not be good enough in legal circles. If you run into trouble, you’ll wish you had done it right the first time.

When you want a legal translation, not a literal one, engage the services of a professional. At GTS, we have been translating legal documents for almost 20 years, ranging from domestic legal papers to EU legal documents and other international materials. Our legal translators are known for their professionalism, experience, and expertise in the legal systems of their source and target countries.

If you need our legal translation service, please contact us today.


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