What Are The Characteristics Of The Language Used In Legal Translation?

    Danilo Coviello

    Language is at the heart of what all translators do. However, some people may wonder why there are specific legal translators for work within this field. A lot of the reason for having specific linguistic experts for law firms or legal documents is due to the terminology used in the legal system, which can be incredibly specialized. Let’s take a look at how the terminology of the legal system makes legal translation a specialist occupation.

    In the field of law, so much rides on words and word use. Legal translators must make sure that every word of their finished file is accurate. From legal disclaimers to wills, even a slight inaccuracy could drastically change the meaning of a document, which could have huge legal consequences.

    Not only does each word in legal documentation have legal implications, but the language itself also has some unusual characteristics that can stump people. Even professional linguists who are familiar with translation theory may struggle with legal terminology, which is why it is best to always get a legally trained person for a legal translation job.

    A lot of the law and crime system is built on history. Knowing previous court judgments form a large part of any lawyer’s work. It is no surprise, with this respect for the past, that law terminology includes a lot of words and phrases from older languages. For example, a lot of countries use Latin terms in their legal systems.

    In years gone by, Latin was a common language among the educated classes, and Latin was taught all over the world to people rich enough to afford a proper education. This meant that Latin became an important tool when dealing with lawyers from different countries – it was one language that enough people shared, helping aid communication. This has since become a key characteristic of legal terminology.

    As with many other languages, legal terminology in English relies heavily on Latin. However, there are also some other conventions that can confuse people. For example, legal phrasing often uses a passive, formal voice, unlike a lot of more casual English in the active voice. This means that translations have to be properly formed with the right style of English to make sure they will be properly received by the target reader, whether that is a lawyer, paralegal, or judge.

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    Legal translation services include taking a legal document in an original language – known as the source language – and translating it into a certain target language. This can include a wide range of different documents, from certificates to contracts to refund policies. It can also include audio recordings – some examples of these are witness statements or recordings of legal hearings.

    As mentioned above, there are many different types of legal files and formats that can get translated within the legal field – everything from a certificate to a news article written by experts of laws. Within this, you will still find that there is a different type of translation for different needs.

    Certified translation

    Certified translation is one of the primary types of translation in legal translation. This means that the translation is guaranteed to be true and accurate. Many countries have regulations that translations must meet in order to be certified. Usually, the translators have to make legal statements about the authenticity of the original translation they have made. This is often used for certificates and official documents.

    Patent translation

    Patent translation consists of translating patents into each language for each region where someone wants to file a patent. Many patent legal translators understand both terminology for law, engineering, or design terminology, and of course their chosen languages. Many patents are translated by a translation agency to help make sure that the team working on the document translation has all the relevant knowledge.

    Contract translation

    Contract translation is very common for people who do legal translations. The target text could be a tenancy contract, employment contract, or non-disclosure agreement. As with any other type of translation for law, there is a huge need for the translated document to be accurate to the original text, to ensure that everyone knows the terms.

    There are, of course, many other types of the translation done by a legal translator professional, but these are some of the most common.

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    All translation requires good knowledge of the source language and, ideally, native familiarity with the target language. So what are the big differences in legal translation?


    As mentioned before, the type of terminology used is very different, and it is vital that the linguist has the proper legal knowledge to understand and work with this kind of content.


    Formatting is also very important for legal documents. When translating a form for a different country, you may find that the formatting is completely different than the source text. The translator has to be able to re-format the document to make sure that it keeps full accurate meaning in the target country.


    One factor that people often overlook is that translation for anything relating to the law can be very different in content to normal linguistic work. A recorded witness statement may contain difficult and upsetting content, which can trouble the translator.

    Anyone with appropriate knowledge of both languages and laws can work in this field. It is best for people to translate only to one language – their native tongue, however people can work with documents from a range of different places as long as they are fluent in how the documents are written.

    To become a certified translator, the translator may have to pass certain tests, register, or meet other requirements which are put into practice by the legal systems of the countries they translate for.


    Preserving the meaning of documents can be a big challenge for any legal translator. This kind of translation consists of some of the most challenging linguistic work of any translated document. However, if you find the right linguistic agency, you can guarantee that you will get excellent translations for your needs in law – whether that is criminal law, contracts, or immigration, as well as translations that are accurate and suitable for official purposes.