Legal Translation: What Are The Challenges?

April 11, 2021
6 minute read
Product Marketing

One of the most sensitive types of translation is legal translation. There is absolutely no room for error and even the tiniest of mistakes or misinterpretations could lead to legal hassles for all concerned parties. That’s why the field of legal translation requires expertise, experience, and attention to detail.

Legal Translation Explained

We live in an increasingly globalized world where companies are conducting business across continents. At a B2Blevel, this means that organizations with different native language proficiencies will be forced to interact with each other. They will have to exchange documentation, reports, petitions, reviews, contracts, judgments, and resolutions with each other.

Then they will have to understand each other’s documentation, its local nuances, cultural context, legal background, and any relevant government or regulatory rules or judgments. For that, they will need legal translation that would deliver all these in their native language.

At a B2C level, companies now have customers across the globe. This is especially true of hardware, software, and life sciences companies. They would need to deliver appropriate terms and conditions and contracts in the languages of their customers. This calls for legal translation that’s mostly customer-facing.

Here is Wikipedia's definition of legal translation.

Who Are Legal Translators?

Legal translators are professionals who translate legal documents from a source language to a target language. They are expected to translate any document that has a legal connotation. These include end-user license agreements, global contracts, privacy policy documents, terms of service, civil codes, common law codes, etc.

Legal translators would be proficient in both the languages they work with. Moreover, they also have expertise in the legal systems of the source language’s country or region. They are either directly employed by companies or by contract translation service providers.

Challenges of Legal Translation

Capturing Difficult Legal Concepts

Unlike other kinds of translation, legal translators have to accurately understand different legal concepts. Not all concepts are universal and at times, legal translation involves learning new concepts that could be foreign to the companies and translators involved. Even the same legal concept could mean a different thing in another language.

Or it could have an added political dimension rooted in the country’s history. Even among countries that use the same primary language for legal documentation, legal concepts could be different. For example, India and the UK both use English as the primary legal language but several legal concepts would be different in the two countries.

Adding to this complexity is the fact that legal words and phrases are often difficult to define in any language. The definition of any legal term in a language would contain more legal words and phrases. When it’s between languages, it can be challenging for those involved.

A legal translator must be well-versed in both legal terminology and the cultural backdrop to translate legal documents.

Different Legal Systems

Legal systems vary from country to country and even within countries, they could be different for different regions. This adds to the complexity of legal translation. Translators should know the structural, conceptual, and functional differences in the legal systems to do an effective job.

In several cases, it would be difficult to find the exact word or phrase in the target language. Legal translators will have to convey the exact meaning without leaving room for any subjective interpretation that could be later problematic.

The difference in legal systems also means that there could be entirely new documentation to deal with. Wherever it seems difficult, translators usually reach out to organizations or legal experts in the source or target languages to better understand the systems.

Here is an article about the difference between Civil Law and Common Law.

Local Legal Terminology

Legal terminology in any language can be inaccessible to those outside the legal profession. Even common English legal terms would be difficult for most English-native speakers to understand. The problem compounds when it’s a different language.

Most people assume that other countries would have a legal terminology similar to theirs. They are often surprised to find out that different countries have legal words, phrases, and even conditions that are completely alien to them.

The terminology used in the local legal system will be based on that country’s sociopolitical history. To understand it, legal translators would need to know about the syntax and sentence structure that legal experts usually use in the native language.

There could be differences in the same country between civil, or criminal laws. Companies will have to source the services of experienced legal translators to accurately understand the differences between them.

Literal Translation Fails

Non-legally trained translators would often go for literal translation. This is the process of merely translating each word without understanding its significance, usage patterns, and contextual importance in the native language.

Literal translation would look similar to machine translation and could create serious misunderstanding among both parties. The most important reason why companies should avail the services of specialized legal translators is that amateurs attempt literal translation. For this reason, ContractsGlobal primarily uses bi-lingual lawyers to translate documents.

Who Uses Legal Translation?

Any private firm, non-profit organization, public body, educational institution, etc. that has to enter into a contract with an organization or individual whose native language is different, will need legal translation.

In the era of global contracts, this means that companies across sectors would need the services of legal translators. A shipping company would need to understand the applicable laws of all the ports on its route and would need legal translation in all those languages, for example.

Software and hardware firms also need the services of legal translators. Their users are spread across the globe and so, they would have to translate their end-user license agreements, terms of service, privacy policy, etc. into native languages.

This is of the utmost importance as there are increasing concerns about the privacy of user data. Technology companies have to spell out their privacy policies to users in their language so that they fully comprehend before giving their consent.

Quality Management Systems

Legal translation requires skill, experience, and proficiency with the legal system of the source language country. It should also be carried out with exceptional attention to detail, as any oversight, error, or misinterpretation could land the concerned organization in legal trouble in a different country.

Like other forms of translation, legal translation requires diligent quality management. Along with internal supervision and proof-checking, reputed translation service firms reach out to external experts for added scrutiny of translated documents. Such an extra layer of quality assessment is necessary when global contracts are at stake.

Overcoming Legal Translation Difficulties

Legal translation is one of the most challenging forms of translation. It requires both precision and imagination to match the source language’s terminology and phrases accurately with the target language.

Translators should have in-depth knowledge of the local syntax, linguistic traditions, and domain expertise in legal systems. Organizations should ensure that they entrust legal translation only with those firms that use professional legal translators.  

When choosing a translation service firm, companies should always ask for an experience not in general legal translation but in the specific source and target languages. Since it’s a niche field, some legal translators also undergo certification programs for added credibility. Companies could also ask for any such certification or association with regulatory bodies.

Get a quote from ContractsGlobal today for your legal translation project.

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