Why Is Legal Translation Important?

Danilo Coviello

Legal translation is a specialist field within translation services. However, it’s a type of translation that most people will only use once or twice in their lives, so not everyone knows why legal translation services are so important. Let’s have a quick look at the importance of legal translations.

What is meant by legal translation?

First, what does legal translation mean? Legal translation is usually translating anything that will be used within the legal field. There are plenty of times when people need to get a file or document translated, and law firms, private clients, etc all need appropriate legal translation services. As we will look at later, while translation at its simplest is translating an original document from a source language to a target language, there are a lot of factors that make legal translation such an important specialist field.

What are some examples of legal translation?

Most legal translation will be done on legal paperwork and documents – this means translating the written word. However, there are also times when translators will need to transcribe and translate audio and video files. This mix of translation and transcription is practically another specialism.

What kind of legal documents need to be translated?

Some of the most common documents that need to be translated are:
• Birth certificates
• Marriage and divorce certificates
• Immigration paperwork
• Court transcripts
• Legal texts
• Contracts and other official documents
• Service agreements

What are legal translations used for?

Legal translations are used when someone does not speak the official language or legal language of an area. This is particularly common when people migrate and may not fluently speak the language of their new country, but they need to fill in a lot of legal documentation. You also need an accurate legal translation if you are dealing with a contract in a different language, or if you have to deal with the legal and court systems of a particular country – anywhere where language barriers get in the way of legal proceedings.

Why is legal trasnslation important?

Legal translation is one of the most important linguistic services. The law and the legal system underpin pretty much everything we do. Making sure that everyone understands all the legal documents they need is vital.

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What could go wrong if a legal document is translated badly?

While it can be unhelpful and difficult to have a document translated badly, having a legal document that is badly translated could lead to a myriad of legal issues. For example, if immigration paperwork is translated badly it could potentially lead to not being accepted into a country. Any incorrectly translated paperwork could have negative legal implications, whether it is submitted to government agencies, business partners, or the court system, and having to file paperwork twice could mean incurring costs unexpectedly.

What makes legal translation different?

We have already said how important accuracy is when translating legal documents – birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other such documents must be accurate to prevent immigration issues, right to work, and other problems.
There are also some technical differences between a legal translation service and a regular language service. Legal translations have a lot of language and terminologies relevant only to the legal system. This legal writing can be difficult for people to translate properly as legal terminology is quite uncommon.
There is also an importance in how such documents are laid out. A professional translator in the legal field should know how to properly format documents, ready for them to be submitted to any official body. This is a big contrast compared to other document translations as most source documents do not have to be formatted a certain way – and it is made all the more difficult from the fact that different legal systems will want documents laid out in a different way, so part of providing an accurate final document means knowing the legal format and legal context for different documents.

Also read: How much does legal translation cost?

Why are legal translations difficult?


Legal documents are difficult because of the in-depth knowledge needed to accurately translate the types of documents that a legal translator will have to deal with. Translators play a vital part in legal proceedings, so there is a lot of pressure on the individual translator to get it right, including accurately translating all the legal terms into a legally accepted format. The required skills to understand this work absolutely needs specialized translators with knowledge of the legal system prevailing in the country they are translating for.

More than one target language

There can be additional confusion added when having to deal with source documents from one language into several different languages, which might require several translators working together – again, any inaccuracy could mean that the documents and any applications could prove void.


Another difficulty in the field of legal translation is the strict time frames that need to be adhered to. Any delay in translating texts could mean that the client misses an important deadline.

Certified translations

Certified translations are another important part of the work for legal translators. A certified translation means that the translator has to legally acknowledge and confirm that the translation is an accurate and truthful representation of the source document, which keeps the original meaning intact. This usually means that the translator has to have certain qualifications and has to provide a signed statement confirming that the new document is an authenticated translation of the original. Documents deemed certified are vital for a lot of official purposes.

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The exact tone and style of legal documents and legal statements can be difficult for people to get right without training as well. As well as needing knowledge of legal terminology in both the original language and target language, the translator must know to avoid the active voice on documents of a legal nature.

What are the most common problems with legal translation?

The most common problems are the risks of inaccuracy, but there are some other issues. Strict protocols must be followed to make sure that the source document originated from an official body, and the translator or translation agency must be able to provide accurate translations because otherwise, anything you sign your name to could make you legally bound to something you did not realize.

What other issues can crop up?

There is a large safety concern over legal translation – a lot of important data is handled by language service providers for legal systems, and unsecured file transfers could be potentially dangerous. Luckily, most professional legal translators know that they need to keep all data safe during electronic transfer and have strict confidentiality agreements. This is an important part of the client and consumer protection.

How can these problems be avoided?

The best way to avoid any problems is to make sure you are using a qualified legal translator who has experience translating for legal systems. If you can, you should find someone who has experience with a specific type of legal file – for example, a birth certificate translator may not be the best person for translating a legal record.
Legal documents are important, so getting them translated properly is important too. It is always worth going to the professionals.