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Why is Legal Translation Important?

Why is Legal Translation Important?

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Legal translation stands formidably within the translation realm, offering substantial financial and professional rewards. For instance, a precise legal translation can open the door to international business opportunities that would have otherwise been inaccessible.

While the enlargement of the EU and NATO in Eastern Europe has underscored the necessity for legal harmonization and the cultivation of a shared legal language through translation, legal translation extends beyond these dimensions.

In this blog, we’ll discover the complexities of legal translation and its significance in the world of business and beyond. We’ll delve into the intricacies of this field and explore the pivotal role played by elements such as content nuances and formatting in shaping the overall meaning of legal content.

What is legal translation?

Before delving into the core of our discussion, let’s establish the essence of legal translation and its differences from other translation forms.

Legal translation involves the transference of legal content from one language to another. It encompasses the translation of legal documents for the purpose of enabling legal authorities, individuals, and businesses in different jurisdictions to comprehend their content and make informed legal decisions.

Legal translation adheres to stringent stylistic rules and specialized vocabulary, shaped by the document’s subject matter and intended use.

For instance, court rulings frequently favour passive voice and the use of past and perfect tenses, accentuating the consequences of prior actions that establish the case’s merits. In contrast, business documents adopt a forward-looking present or future tense, offering clear statements within a legally-binding context.

These stylistic nuances may elude novice translators, regardless of their overall translation skills. Mastery of the legal translation craft necessitates years of practice because “Legalese” constitutes a distinct and potent language, as we explain in a few moments.

Documents that typically require a legal translation

Legal translation is necessary for various types of documents, catering to both individual and business needs. Here’s a breakdown:

For Individuals:

Personal Documents: This category includes items such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, and passports.

Wills and Testaments: Ensuring the accurate translation of wills and testaments is crucial to uphold an individual’s final wishes.

Immigration Documents: When applying for visas or residency in another country, individuals often need translations of documents like visas, immigration forms, and residence permits.

Power of Attorney: Translating power of attorney documents is needed when granting someone legal authority to act on your behalf in a foreign jurisdiction.

For Businesses:

Contracts: International business contracts, including agreements, partnerships, and terms of service, must be accurately translated to ensure legal compliance.

Patents and Trademarks: Protecting intellectual property requires precise translation of patents, trademarks, and copyright documentation.

Financial Documents: Businesses often need translations for financial reports, tax documents, and audits when operating in foreign markets.

Regulatory Compliance: To navigate foreign regulatory frameworks, businesses require translations of compliance-related documents.

Litigation Documents: When involved in legal disputes abroad, businesses might require the translation of court rulings, affidavits, and legal briefs.

Why legal translation deserves more recognition

While legal translation might not be everyone’s preference, it’s essential to recognize the profound implications of translating legal content from one language into another. The stakes are high, since the quality of the translation can determine whether you enhance or damage your entity’s reputation.

The role of legal translators in legal proceedings: Navigating the complexity of Legalese

Legal translators shoulder a lot more responsibility than many realize when seeking out their services. To shed light on their significance in legal proceedings, we must delve deeper into their main responsibilities and traits.

Most importantly, a legal translator must be proficient in Legalese. Given it’s an intricate and nearly cryptic language, Legalese poses a formidable challenge for translators outside the legal sphere (which is why hiring a legal translator instead of a generalist translator is highly encouraged).

As previously discussed, the style and structure of legal documents hinge on their specific scope. Therefore, in order to accurately and precisely translate the content of legal documents, legal translators must possess an in-depth understanding of each one of these elements.

Let’s take a look at the typical characteristics of legal translation to arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of what translating legal documents involves.

The 5 key characteristics that define legal translation

1. Legal systems differ from country to country

Legal systems vary by country, as each has its own distinct framework and regulations. Legal translators must possess a deep understanding of the target legal system, making subject-matter expertise a must.

While international organizations and tribunals offer guidance like style guides and best practices to assist translators in maintaining the source-language meaning, legal translators should also possess a strong legal foundation in the target system, as they often do.

For example, the United States has a common law legal system, which relies heavily on precedent and case law. Its legal framework is based on federal and state laws, with each U.S. state having its own set of laws and regulations. Legal documents in the U.S. may refer to federal statutes, state statutes, and case law, making it crucial for legal translators to be well-versed in both federal and state-specific legal terminology and procedures.

By contrast, Germany follows a civil law legal system, which is based on codified laws and statutes. The German legal framework is characterized by its comprehensive legal codes, such as the German Civil Code and the German Commercial Code. Legal documents in Germany often rely on these codes and specific legal terminology.

2. Systems and laws are in a constant state of flux

Translators must not only possess a deep understanding of the legal systems that they work with, but also stay updated on any recent developments within these systems.

In certain instances, regulations, rules, decrees, and laws can undergo revisions, most of the time to align with changes in the government. Each alteration introduces nuances that legal translators must promptly recognize and incorporate into their translations.

Let’s say that a legal translator is working on a case involving environmental regulations in two countries, and the translation involves a specific provision related to permissible emission levels for a certain industry.

In the middle of the translation project, Country A’s government decides to tighten its environmental laws, resulting in a significant reduction in allowable emissions. A translator that stays abreast of these governmental changes will be aware of this shift in government law and adjust the translation accordingly.

3. Language specificity leaves no room for interpretation

Oftentimes referred to as the “wooden language” of law, legal translation is highly specific and frequently defies direct translation.

Terms and phrases such as “without prejudice,” “de jure,” “de facto,” “quid pro quo,” “de minimis,” “merits,” “abandonment,” “absolute owner,” “abatement,” “abuse of process,” “accessory,” “active trust,” “actus reus,” “ad hoc,” “ad idem,” “ad infinitum,” “adjourned sine die,” etc., leave no room for interpretation and thus demand meticulous handling. In cases where a direct equivalent is absent in the target language, transcreation may be necessary to capture the precise legal meaning.

Consider the Latin legal term “quid pro quo,” which is often used in contract law. In English, it translates literally to “something for something” or “this for that.” This term signifies an exchange of goods or services, where one party provides something in return for something of equal value from the other party.

Now, imagine translating a legal document containing the phrase “quid pro quo” into another language, like French. In French, there may not be an exact equivalent phrase that conveys the same legal nuance and precision. In this case, the translator might need to use a longer or more elaborate phrase in French to convey the same legal idea effectively.

4. Syntax and punctuation can make or break meaning

The role of syntax and punctuation in legal translation cannot be overstated. These aspects put the translator’s attention to detail to the test, with even punctuation being of particular significance. For instance, the absence of the Oxford comma in many languages can lead to the misinterpretation of a sentence.

Legal documents often feature lengthy, convoluted sentences laden with cryptic phrases, as mentioned earlier. The skill of a legal translator lies in their ability to convey the precise meaning of legal material in the target language, while adhering to the syntax, punctuation, and formatting rules endorsed by the relevant legal system.

Failure to grasp these nuances in legal translation can yield dire consequences. If a multinational corporation is expanding into a new market and needs to translate their complex contracts and agreements into the local language, for example, a subpar legal translation that misinterprets crucial terms or nuances could lead to misunderstandings, legal disputes, and/or damage to the company’s reputation.

On the other hand, a precise and accurate legal translation ensures clarity and compliance with local laws, enhancing the company’s reputation for professionalism and reliability in the eyes of its new partners and stakeholders.

Hence, the pivotal role of legal translation becomes apparent. It not only facilitates an understanding of foreign legal systems, but also enables seamless cross-border operations without encountering these unwanted repercussions.

5. Formatting is a mark of compliance

If legal terms and syntax constitute the essence of legal translation, then formatting serves as an equally vital component. Each country adheres to a distinct format specific to its jurisdiction that the translated document must observe.

For instance, if you’re initiating legal proceedings against someone in Brazil or registering a subsidiary office in the country, you’ll have to adhere to the prescribed legal formatting rules to ensure that your documents align seamlessly with the local regulatory framework.

Our final thoughts on legal translation

The dynamic nature of the legal landscape places legal translation at the forefront. Whether your objectives involve expanding your global business footprint or taking part in international legal proceedings, proficient legal translation can act as your strategic advantage.

Leveraging the services of a professional team of legal translators such as Pangea Global can facilitate this endeavour and prove invaluable in the long term. Our accomplished legal translators, terminologists, and lawyer linguists possess native fluency in 75+ languages and also hold certifications in the relevant jurisdictions that they serve. Their extensive expertise spans regulatory compliance translation, licensing, court proceedings, and more.

Contact us today to explore the ways we can assist you!

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