What Does Legal Translation Mean

Danilo Coviello

You may have heard of legal translation services but are unsure what this means. Sometimes the mere mention of the legal field or anything to do with the law can make people apprehensive. In this blog, we will cover what legal translation actually means, as well as give you information on what legal translators do.

The best place to start is by looking at examples of legal translation services. Legal translators must be able to translate all the different kinds of legal documents.

What kind of documents?

Legal translation can cover a wide range of different documents and paperwork for legal purposes. For example:

  • Court registries
  • Identity documentation
  • Business contracts
  • Litigation papers
  • Financial documents
  • Legal texts
  • Witness transcripts

and many more. Any piece of paperwork where there is a potential for legal consequences can be translated by a properly trained legal translator.

Legal translation means getting legal documents translated into new languages. Typically legal text will be written in one language, which translators call the source language. This can be translated into any other target language.

The reason that people need legal translations varies greatly, but generally, it is for any type of legal text. Many agencies also offer legal translations into a wide range of target languages, and they can work with a range of source languages.

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The reason that people need legal translations varies greatly, but generally, it is for any type of legal text. Many agencies also offer legal translations into a wide range of target languages, and they can work with a range of source languages.

Legal translation can include preparing all kinds of documents. It can be translating items for legal practices, independent legal professionals, or even for courts or international institutes like the European Commission.

Many law firms use translators to help when they are dealing with clients who speak a different language. A properly translated document can help massively, so most legal translation work is translating documents.

There is also a lot of translation work that involved audio translation, such as translating witness statements made on audio recordings.

There are so many different files and documents within legal systems that the work translators do has to be flexible and varied.

A legal translator will use their excellent knowledge and expertise of linguistics and the legal system to help make sure that every translation they do is accurate and fit for purpose.

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Typically, a translation will be done by an initial translator. It is then good practice to have the translation checked by a second professional translator who is fluent in the source and target language. This helps ensure that the translation is accurate and translated properly for the target reader.

Legal translation is one of the most complex fields within translation services. People study for years to understand legal terminology and legal concepts. Translators need to understand both law and translation theory in order to accurately and properly translate anything within the legal field.

Within legal English, many of the terms used have their roots in Latin or Greek, which means that legal translators need to be able to work with complex terms in other languages. On top of this, when translating a legal file from one language to another, a translator needs to understand the legal information and terminologies in both languages.

Professional legal translators can also help with more than just translating into the official language of a different region. They can also help make sure the document is of great quality – they know when to use a passive voice, which is common in legal paperwork, but they also know the less common uses of the active voice in legal items.

Accuracy is vital in legal paperwork, so using a professional translator is a must. Even having one word translated wrongly could change a document drastically. Any wrong words could have major legal implications, and since so many legal papers are about major issues, it is always worth using a professional.

The legal system is a foundation for everything we do, and the legal system is so complex that it can be easily misunderstood, even by people who speak the language. This is why high-quality legal translations are so important.

Legal translation for professionals

Whatever field you are in, the law is important. If you are in engineering trade associations, you need to make sure that any filed patents are understood by your team to ensure that they do not misstep. If you are looking at opening a legal case, you may need to look at translations of previous legal rulings to better understand what you are facing.

On a more personal level, many people need legal files translated – for example, immigration documents are often handled in a different language to someone’s native tongue, but the target text needs to be translated accurately. Professionals can also help provide certificates such as marriage certificates, birth certificates, or educational certifications in a new language, which is often vital to act as proof for immigration or job application needs.

Multicultural needs

Legal translation helps make sure that everyone understands the content of any documents or recordings. It can also help massively in overcoming the cultural differences seen in different systems of law in different countries. This is vital when dealing with international law, as a lot of the ways that legal documents are laid out are culture-dependent.

Now that you know how important legal translation is, you may want to know how to tell whether a legal specialist translator is doing a good job. Generally, good translations come from experts who speak the target language natively.


The first thing to check is what experience a translator has within the field of law. Generally, translators who have studied law will have a better understanding of legal expressions, which means that their translations will be better than those who do not know legal terminology as well. They also need familiarity with natural language.


Further to this, you will want to check if a translator has experience within a certain part of the law field. Some translators will specialize in verbatim translation of studio recordings, while some specialize in contract translation for various countries. You may also find that some specialize in a particular country’s legal translation, for example, someone well versed in translating documents for United Nations personnel, or someone familiar with Islamic law.

Picking your translator carefully can make the difference between a good translation and a poor one.

Legal translation can be a difficult field, and there are many ways that people can slip up.

A very common mistake is making literal translations of legal terms, which a machine translation may suffer from. This is the wrong type of translation for legal purposes.

Legal translators must also make sure that any translated text is laid out correctly for the audience, turning the source language document into a document suitable for a different law system.

This varies between different countries. In many countries, translators have to take legal oaths that their translation is accurate, or they have legal disclaimers. This is especially useful when assisting international institutions.

Other countries may require a specific certification before translators can work on official reports, due to the legal relationships between countries and a desire to keep international relations smooth. Translators may be checked by independent bodies or centrally regulated, depending on the country.