The Complexity of Legal Translation

legal translation servicesTranslation and practicing law are both very different vocations, but when it comes to the amount of flexibility that lawyers and translators have in the words they use, there is very little.  The word of the law is the word of the law – whether it’s in a statute, a contract, a patent, a confidentiality agreement or a witness statement; the law must be accurate in every language. Ensuring that legal terms are correct in the language they are being translated into is always vital, but sometimes challenging to achieve.

With the inherent complexity of the English language consider the difficulties in expressing English legal terms into other languages through translation.  There are cultural inconsistencies in legal translation that often come up.  English terms at times do not have offer direct translation in some languages.  For example, the Greek language offers no equivalent term for “fiduciary.”  Should someone in your organization suggest machine translation  as a viable solution for legal translation, tell them to reconsider. 

The purveyors of MT themselves would tell you that the risk and potential liability make it a non-starter when it comes to the legal field because of the inherent variability with even standard text, let alone complex legal text.

Proper translation of legal content begins with a dedicated legal translation professional who must have familiarity with the law of both of the legal systems involved: the legal system from the source text, and the legal system that the target text will be translated into. Native fluency and familiarity with the source language, along with the resources necessary to research key terminology, will enable the translator to have a clear grasp of the meaning, the content and the function of the concepts that he or she need to translate. Near-native fluency with the second language will enable the translator to accurately express the content and concepts in the target language.

Where there isn’t a 1:1 equivalent of a concept or term that needs to be translated, the translator’s expertise should allow him or her to be descriptive in their approach to ensure that the final recipient of the text will be able to properly understand it. 

In the language industry, legal translation is one of the particular fields that not every translator is qualified to perform.  Just as an attorney that specializes in Intellectual Property may not be the ideal candidate to work in the field of Family Law or Personal Injury, a legal translator must specialize in the field of law to ensure that he or she is familiar with legal terminology and concepts.  And most importantly, a legal translator must properly understand the source material so that they can properly and accurately help the target audience to end up with the same understanding.

The potential impact of mis-translation can be significant with a high level of risk, so the safest choice is to work with an agency that has a quality assurance process that ensures not only the use of legal specialists for 100% of their legal projects, but also qualified reviewers chosen from the same talent pool.




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