What Is Legal Translation And What Makes It Different?

    Danilo Coviello

    Legal translation is a specialist field that lots of people have heard of but not many people know exactly what it is and what is involved. Let’s have a look at what makes legal translation different from regular translation work.

    What do you mean by legal translation?

    Legal translation is simply translating anything that will be used within the legal system. This means having to prepare any legal text, legal document, or other files that might be needed for legal rulings or other legal purposes.

    As well as text translation, legal translation can include transcription and translation of audio or video files – for example, witness reports, recordings of hearings, or CCTV footage.

    Is legal translation related to crime?

    While the legal system obviously has a lot to do with the criminal system, there are other uses for legal translations. A lot of the work that is involved with legal translation services is focused on civil matters, proof of identity, contracts, and more.

    What is a certified legal translation?

    If you are looking into legal translation you will probably have come across the term Certified Legal Translation. Certified translation means that the translation has to be guaranteed as an accurate and true translation of the original document. This is especially important when translating legal documentation, as even a small change could have huge legal consequences.

    In order to certify a translation, a legal translator may need to have proof of their qualifications or language fluency. This means they can prove that their translation will be accurate. Typically the requirements for providing certified translations are different in different countries, so it is important that a translator knows the rules to be able to sign and confirm that their translation is certified

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    What is legal translation and what are some examples?

    What does legal translation mean? As we’ve already discussed, legal translation means translating any files or paperwork for use in the legal system, but it can be hard to know exactly what kind of documents may be translated by a professional legal translator. Some of the most common items translated are:

    • Birth certificates
    • Marriage and divorce certificates
    • Immigration paperwork
    • Contract
    • Financial documents that require certification
    • Litigation papers
    • Witness reports, testimonies and other official reports

    Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Anything that has a legal implication or anything that uses legal terms can be handled by a legal translator.

    What is legal document translation?

    Legal document translation refers to translations that are done on legally binding documents. This can include birth certificates and other identity documentation.

    What is different about translating legal documents?

    Almost all the documents handled by a legal translator are legally binding or have a legal requirement for accuracy. This means that is there are any errors on the translated document it could be completely invalid. These documents often have to be certified in order to make sure that there are no inaccuracies or attempts at fraud – a faked birth certificate, marriage certificate or other paperwork is a common way for people to try to gain entry into other countries, so certification of these translations helps avoid this.

    On top of this, legal translation has a lot of differences to regular document translation. Let’s look at how it differs.

    How does legal translation differ from standard or regular translation?

    As already mentioned, translating legal documents requires a lot of accuracies. However, legal translation is not just different from regular translation because of the emphasis on accuracy and certification. There are some other differences that not everyone in the translation industry will be familiar with.

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    One of the biggest differences with legal translation is the use of legal expressions. Most people know that legal documents have some strange words. These words will be commonplace to anyone in the legal system, and anyone working on the translation of legal documents will have to at least recognize every legal expression used. Ideally, they would also know the legal definition of terms in order to make sure that the finished translation is correct.

    Another difference is in the style and tone. Legal translators must make sure that the translations are in the correct passive voice for use in the legal field of a foreign country.

    What are the differences between legal and literary translation?

    Literary translation is a field where there is a lot more emphasis on the flow and feel of a piece of text. This often means that the text will be in an active voice, rather than the passive voice of legal translations. While they might be similar in complexity, legal translations and law-based scholarly writings have a lot more specialist terminology and must be presented a certain way.

    What are the differences between legal translations and technical translations?

    Technical translation is another specialist field within translation services. In order to give a proper translation of a technical text, there are more specific terms that a translator must know, usually terms related to the field of the document, whether that is engineering, chemistry, medicine, or another discipline. Technical translation is similar to legal translation, but the knowledge needed is different.

    What skills do legal translators need to have?

    Now that we know what makes legal translation work different, we can look at what a legal translator needs to know.

    Is legal knowledge beneficial for legal translators?

    Yes, legal knowledge is very useful for anyone wanting to work in legal translation. A translator with knowledge of legal systems will be more likely to translate a document properly since they will know a lot of the specialist terminologies used in the documents. However, it is not a simple case of understanding one region’s laws. It is important for a translator to understand the two legal systems of the two languages they are translating between – this might mean knowing legal English and Islamic law, or a different pair – but whatever the pair is, a translator needs to have a lot of knowledge about the legal concepts and official language in both countries.

    What is translation theory and why do legal translators need it?

    Translation theory is useful for any translator to know in order to make sure they make an accurate translation. It means knowing how best to translate things from a source language into a target language, including how to deal with any unique features of the language or any aspects of translation are that culture-dependent.

    What languages do legal translators need to know?

    A legal translator needs to know the source language and target language well. Typically, the target language will be their native language, while they should know the source language fluently. They will also need to know all the legal language used for legal matters.


    Legal translation is simply turning a target text into a translated text, but what makes legal translation different is the specialist terminology that is found within the legal field. A professional translator with legal translation expertise is the person best placed to handle legal translations to avoid legal or financial complications. The legal field relies on specifics and accuracy, so experience in the legal field is needed for the translation of legal documents.