What Are The Characteristics Of Legal Translation?

    Danilo Coviello

    Legal translation is a field that is often not talked about outside the relevant industry. To make it more confusing, legal translation consists of a lot of specific aspects which make it rather different from regular translation. In this post, we can look at some of the characteristics of legal translations and translation work, and how it differs from regular translation services.

    Legal translation is, of course, the translation that happens for the legal system, but there are a lot of different tasks and services that legal translators must be able to offer. This is due to the wide range of tasks that need to be completed with the legal system. Let’s look at some of the legal translation services that professionals supply.

    There are multiple different types of translation within the legal field. While it generally means translating anything from a source language to a target language, it can also mean translating some articles, such as patents, into a wide range of languages to make sure that they can be read by anyone.
    Let’s look at what type of translation or language services that a good legal translator might have to work on:

    • Document translation – simply translating written files from one language to another language
    • Transcription – Taking audio and creating a transcription of the spoken words in the file, ready for translation
    • Interpretation – interpreting and translating spoken word, often in person or over video

    From these examples, we can see that this type of work covers a wide range of different tasks, which already shows us one of the main characteristics of legal language services – there is a lot of flexibility required. The tasks given could be different from one day to the next, so a legal translator should be ready for anything and have good practice in all different types of linguistic services.

    There is a wide range of documents that need to be translated. Some of the most common such as marriage certificates or contracts may seem obvious, but there are other documents that people may not think of, for example:

    Divorce papers
    Birth certificates
    Immigration paperwork
    Product warranty information
    Witness statements

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    There are of course many other documents that have to be translated by law translation experts. Any paperwork used by a judge, attorney, or individual to do with the legal system has to be translated accurately and properly, which means that getting a professional is vital. Legal translation is a type of translation where accuracy is hugely important.

    We’ve already mentioned a couple of the key features of legal translations – anyone translating legal documentation has to be accurate to make sure that documents are translated properly, and they have to be flexible to make sure that they can cover all the different types of translation needed for the legal industry.

    There are some other unusual features of translation for legal systems that we can look at:

    Legal translation is different from regular translation services due to the nature of the content that legal translators have to deal with. Any inaccuracy could have major legal consequences, so it is important for anyone working in legal translation services to have all the skills and know all the strange nuances of the work.

    Legal knowledge is required

    Firstly, it is always most successful to have a translator who is familiar with the content of the documents they work on. This means that they will need to know the purposes and intentions of each specific type of legal document they come across. This means that legal translators must be familiar with the legal field, as well as their language pair, and translation theory.

    Every country has different rules

    While it seems overwhelming enough to know all about language and legal content, this is made all the harder considering that legal translators have to know the different legal systems of all countries they could end up translating for – for example, someone might need to know UK law for information for courts, but may also need to know Islamic law to make sure that their translation is true and accurate. So much of law is culture-dependent that a legal translator needs to know a lot about different laws and be highly qualified.

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    It can seem hard to find someone who will know all the laws of different countries around the world – this is one reason why a lot of people find legal translation options from a translation agency, where you can be guaranteed to find someone who knows how to handle your translation.

    Layout is important

    Something a legal translator has to ensure is that a source text is properly laid out in the source language. Getting legal forms filed and filled quickly means following the regulations for layout and content, which is unlike other types of translation where layout and formatting are less important.

    Language use and ‘legalese’

    One of the most prominent features of legal translation is the use of legal terminology or legalese as some people call it. While you might think that bilingual law dictionaries can help here, a good legal translator should know the meaning of all the unusual terms found in a legal text to better translate the target text.

    This is especially important since the target reader is likely to be a legal professional, who will expect the document to be presented perfectly in the official language of the legal system they work in.

    Sensitive subjects

    Another, less technical aspect of legal language work is the possibility to come across sensitive subjects. While a lot of the time a legal translator will be translating birth certificates or contracts, there is always the chance that something more sensitive will come up, particularly if it is items related to criminal cases, wills, etc.

    Why is legal translation important?

    What skills do legal translators need?

    Legal translators have to have a lot of experience. They have to:

    • Be fluent in at least two different languages – and ideally translate into their native language
    • Have knowledge of the legal systems of the many countries (wherever their languages are spoken)
    • Have knowledge of the terminology used in law
    • Be able to do urgent translations quickly

    So why do people work in legal translation?

    Legal translations can be hard, but lots of people find it to be very rewarding work, where a translator can use their knowledge of different laws, international law, and legal terminology to help people navigate systems of law. It can be an interesting and enjoyable way for people to work with the written word if they have the skills they need.

    Final thoughts

    Translation of legal documents is a complex field. Someone without legal knowledge would struggle to understand the meaning of a legal source document – making a document suitable for the legal processes of a different country and a different target language is a skill that legal linguists have to hone until they can make sure that there are no functional differences between the original files and the finished files.

    Linguistic work for the field of law has always been something that can challenge people due to the precision involved, the specialist language, and the variety of issues handled – this is why it is always best to find a professional.