6 Things You Need to Know about Legal Translation
Click here to close
Click here to close
Subscribe here

6 Things You Need to Know about Legal Translation

6 Things You Need to Know about Legal Translation


If your marketing or technical translators are also handling your legal materials, such as agreements, contracts, or compliance documentation, then you have cause for concern. These documents are both legally-binding and comprised of content full of jargon, so it is critical that the translations are carried out to the highest level of fidelity by specialists. This is the only way to make sure that all parties involved understand the contents without any room for confusion or misinterpretation.

Legal translation is more complex (and arguably more important to get exactly right) than “standard” translation, which typically refers to straightforward documentation like technical manuals. Just like with marketing materials, legal documentation requires its own unique approach. Essentially, there are two basic processes for translating legal content:

  • Standard legal translation: the translation is done by a translator who has a legal background and legal translation expertise. The content is then fully reviewed by a second legal translator.
  • Translation with legal review: this process involves a legal review by a lawyer after standard legal translation happens. The lawyer verifies if the translated content is correct for the local market and makes necessary suggestions.

In both cases, material can be back-translated in order to validate that the message is retained: the content is translated from source to target (e.g. English to French) and then back from French to English to see if the meaning has deviated. If it has, fixes are made in the translated version.

Whatever approach your project requires, here are six tips and tricks to get it right.

1. Consider document type

While some documents like End User License Agreements for software applications (EULAs) are most often clean and clear, a lot of legal translation can be complicated and ambiguous — which you well know if you have ever read the fine print on an insurance policy. It is important to identify the type of document, the purpose of the translation, where the document will be used, and whether it is a legally-binding contract, and only then can you pinpoint the translator with the best skills for the content.

2. Resolve source file issues

Source files can sometimes be hard copies or scanned PDFs, making it difficult to use translation technologies such as Translation Memories. In these cases, best practice requires that you type the document over again, or scan the hard copy using OCR technology, so that the source content is electronic, searchable, and translatable using translation tools.

3. Look for expertise

As mentioned, the optimal resources are not your standard translators. It is imperative to find specialized resources that are experienced in legal content. Specialized translators know exactly what to do to deliver a successful legal translation. Yet beware: these resources can be difficult to find and may also be more expensive.

4. Consider the area of practice

There are a number of more specific areas of practice under the “legal” domain, requiring even deeper translator specialization. These include antitrust, banking and finance, mergers and acquisitions, employment and benefits, insurance, intellectual property, private equity, litigation, real estate, and tax. Be sure your translator has familiarity with the practice area that applies to your work.

5. Control the style

Target market style guides and glossaries are fundamental to ensuring that the translated content is correct, clear and consistent according to a specific enterprise’s requirements. For example, translators need to know which words should remain in English, the format/style requirements, and any locale specifics.

6. Review for a specific locale

In-country review may be required even though all target locales may share a language. For example, Spanish is spoken in 26 countries, each of which may have different laws, so the type of legal content may require reviewers in specific countries (rather than only by language). In the financial sector, there are several categories of international rules, regulated primarily through either the US or the UK. The translators and reviewers must be knowledgeable in the appropriate legal environment for that market.

When you need to translate corporate legal material, don’t just send it to your regular user material translator. Make sure you have someone with practice-level expertise who understands the challenges of working with legal content. What are some other tips on how your legal department ensures that legal translations are correct?