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Legal Translation and Localization – A Definitive Guide

Legal Translation and Localization – A Definitive Guide

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Relocating to a different country? Moving your business operations overseas? Whatever your specific situation, if you are in the process of preparing your personal or your organizational documents to present them in a foreign language or country, it’s crucial that you translate them the right way.

However, it can be tricky to know where to start or what to look for when translating legal documents. You have to figure out which of your documents require legal translation, what background or experience your translators must have, and many other specifics related to the process.
In this article, we’re going to do a big dive on everything there is to know about legal document translation and localization. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of the complexities involved and the necessary factors to consider in your search for legal document translation services. Let’s jump right in!

What’s a legal translation?

Legal translation refers to the translation of any documents or content that relates to the law. Legal document translations are required when legal documents, like contracts, agreements, regulations, or laws, need to be understood and used in a different language or legal system.
Translating these kinds of documents is way more complex than just swapping words around – it demands not only competency in multiple languages but also a deep understanding of legal concepts and terminology in both the source and target languages. For this reason, legal translators must have a solid legal education, as well as knowledge of the legal systems of both the source and target countries (more information on that in later sections).

The importance of legal translation

Legal translation is important as it creates the necessary conditions for effective communication between individuals, organizations, and legal systems operating in different languages. In essence, legal translation serves as a cross-communication bridge between different legal frameworks, ensuring that legal information can be interpreted correctly by all parties involved.
Given that these texts are to be used in legal contexts, their accurate translation is of utmost priority and translation errors cannot be tolerated, no matter how seemingly insignificant. In fact, any mistranslation or inaccuracy that distorts the intended meaning or alters the legal implications of a clause can bring about severe legal consequences. Even small mistakes like mere punctuation errors or misspellings can be fatal in some cases.
For example, a company with mistranslated paperwork might face legal repercussions due to non-compliance with regulations or misinterpretation of contractual obligations. This can lead to reputational damage, which might strain the company’s relationships with their business partners or clients.
In addition to the potential financial and legal consequences, inaccurate legal translation can also have serious implications for individuals involved in legal proceedings. In courtrooms, all parties need to understand their rights, obligations, and legal procedures to their fullest extent. A mistranslation during a trial could lead to misunderstandings or even wrongfully imposed convictions in the worst-case scenario.

The types of legal documents that might require translation & why

There’s a range of different documents that might require a legal document translation, each serving an entirely distinct purpose. Some of the most notable document types include:
Contracts and Agreements: Legal translation is often necessary for various types of contracts and agreements established between parties, including commercial contracts, employment agreements, partnership agreements, or licensing contracts.
Court Documents: Legal documents related to court proceedings, such as pleadings and judgments, may require translation in cases when legal matters involve parties from different language backgrounds.
Legal Certificates: Documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, or divorce decrees, may need to be translated for purposes like international transactions or immigration processes.
Regulatory and Compliance Documents: Legal translation is necessary for regulatory documents, compliance reports, or financial statements, to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations in different countries or jurisdictions.
Corporate Documents: Translation of corporate documents, including shareholder agreements, or annual reports, is essential for multinational companies operating in different legal systems or expanding their business globally.
In most cases, individuals will seek out legal document translation services because they are relocating to work, study, or marry in a foreign country. For example, moving from a different country to marry in the UK may necessitate the translation of a marriage or a divorce certificate from the source language into English.
It’s also quite common for organizations to need their documents translated when expanding their operations overseas.

What is it that makes legal translation so special and complex?

Since legal translation is focused on the rights and obligations of real individuals and organizations, this makes it entirely distinguishable compared to other types of translations and particularly more complex.
According to Malcolm Harvey (2002), legal translation can be characterized by the following four things, all of which enhance the process’s complexity:
Nature of Legal Discourse: Legal documents can serve two different purposes; they can either be prescribing certain actions and obligations (e.g., in contracts) or describing existing laws and regulations. The specific function of a legal document depends on the context in which it’s used, and it’s crucial for the translated version of the document to maintain its legal validity and enforceability.
System-Bound Discipline: The field of law is diverse, as different legal systems have developed independently within different languages and countries. This creates a major challenge for translators, as finding appropriate equivalents for culture-bound terms from one language to the other can be difficult. To do this, legal translators must be aware of the specific concepts and procedures that apply to the source and target legal systems in question.
Fidelity: Legal translation goes beyond simple language conversion. Legal translators are not just bilingual typists but also expert writers. They need to ensure that the translated text has an equivalent impact on the target reader, which may require them to make substantial changes to the stylistic conventions of the target legal culture. The aim is not necessarily to be faithful to the exact wording of the source text – instead, it’s to convey the intent of the legal instrument as intended by legislators.
Ambiguity and Interpretation: Legal language, also known as “Legalese”, involves rhetoric and relies on natural language. This ambiguity presents challenges for accurately interpreting legal content and requires careful consideration during the translation process. Translators must strive to maintain clarity and precision while navigating the potential of there being multiple interpretations to the same text.

Why the differences between the legal systems matter

As we’ve briefly touched upon, legal systems have developed independently and thus display some great variations from one country to another. Since every country operates under its own procedures, laws, and principles, these differences must be accounted for in the translation.

Because of this, legal translators are expected to possess not only language proficiency and legal expertise, but also a deep understanding of the differences between the civil codes of the two languages they are working with. Without this specialized knowledge, the translator won’t be able to accurately interpret and convey legal concepts in a way that aligns with the legal framework of the target jurisdiction.
Ultimately, the greater the disparities in civil codes between the source and target language, the more demanding the translation task.
Consider Germany and the United States – two countries which display some major differences in the ways their legal systems operate. For instance, the German legal system places emphasis on codified laws, while the U.S. legal system relies on judicial decisions and legal precedents.
In order to accurately interpret and translate legal documents from German into English, translators must be thoroughly knowledgeable about the differences encompassing the civil codes of the German as well as U.S. legal framework. By knowing these subtle intricacies, the translator can consider the cultural and legal context of both the source and target languages, enabling them to find the most appropriate translation equivalents whilst keeping the original legality of the text intact.

Legal formatting

Another factor that makes legal translation more particular is that it also deals with formatting. This is due to the fact that each jurisdiction has its own set of rules and regulations dictating how legal documents should be presented.

In general, common-law countries employ a linear formatting style that uses headings and subheadings, whereas civil law countries rely on a hierarchical formatting approach, employing article numbering for text structure. Thus, when translating legal texts, you should also take care to adapt each document to match the specific jurisdictional formatting requirements.
The easiest way to ensure that the translated documents adhere to the appropriate jurisdictional formatting conventions is to work with a legal translation company that also offers Desktop Publishing (DTP) solutions. Such companies are already familiar with the differences in formatting between countries and possess the necessary tools and expertise to adapt your legal documents accordingly as well.

Key factors to consider before you choose a legal translation agency

Considering the above complexities involved in legal document translation, it takes a very specific type of a translator or translation company to take on your translation task. In order to avoid potential misunderstandings or costly lawsuits due to unintended mistranslations, you’ll have to find a legal translation company that ticks a certain number of boxes.
First and foremost, the company that you entrust your official documents with should be professional and have a strong background in the legal field. A professional legal translation agency will only employ translators that are educated in law and who are well-versed in legal terminology and concepts that exist in different legal systems, ensuring the precise translation of your documents.
Additionally, due to the differences that exist between the various legal systems, the particular translators should have previous experience in navigating the source and target country’s civil codes. That way you can ensure that the translation abides by local laws.
Another important consideration is the company’s familiarity with the certification requirements of different jurisdictions. Legal translations sometimes require certification or notarization to be recognized as official documents. Therefore, the agency should be in a position to assess your specific needs and provide the appropriate certification as necessary. For this, you’ll have to work with a translation company that also offers certified legal translation services.
What’s more, when dealing with legal documents, confidentiality comes first. It’s crucial to ensure that the translation company you choose employs robust confidentiality procedures to keep any sensitive information contained in your documents protected. Such measures may include secure file transfer, non-disclosure agreements, and adherence to data protection regulations, like the GDPR.
Working with a translation agency that fulfils the above criteria can give you peace of mind in knowing your legal documents will be handled safely and securely throughout the translation process.

Legal translation tools

When it comes to legal document translation, the speed of the translation is just as crucial as its quality. That’s because legal documents are typically time-sensitive and need to be prepared ahead of time.
Fortunately, modern legal translation companies have access to advanced translation tools that can expedite the process. Agencies that use a combination of translation memories, term-bases, and online dictionaries can deliver the final translations fast and to the highest quality standards possible.
Thus, when choosing amongst the various legal translation companies available on the market, choose a company with access to cutting-edge translation technology, as that will put you at an advantage.

Pangea Global: Your trusted partner for accurate and reliable legal translations

In conclusion, translating legal documents is far from simple, and the significance of working with legal translation professionals who possess the proper legal background, experience, and tools cannot be overstated.
When you choose a professional agency like Pangea Global as your legal translation services provider, you can have full confidence in the accuracy and reliability of your translations. Through our customized compliance and regulatory translation solutions, we enable you to effectively communicate with international authorities and maintain adherence to local regulations. Our legal translators speak over 75+ languages and possess a comprehensive understanding of the specific legal landscape in which they work.
Get in touch today, and we’ll provide you with fully personalised assistance tailored to your specific legal situation.
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