How Do You Translate a Contract?

May 31, 2021
6 minute read
Product Marketing

As everything from business to entertainment to sports gets globalized, there’s a greater demand to translate contracts. Contract translation and legal translation in the case of legal contracts is how governments and companies with different language proficiencies understand each other and find common ground.

It’s not just multinational companies with global offices that need to translate contracts. While they need contract translation and legal translation to enter into agreements with each other, they also need to enter into agreements with customers worldwide.

A mobile phone manufactured in China would have a user agreement that a customer in Brazil would need to understand. It goes beyond products to services that almost all of us use daily. In this digital-first world, most technology companies need to translate contract so that their users across the world would know their privacy policies.

Understanding Contract Translation

When you translate a contract, all the involved parties get a clearer idea of what they are entering into. With contract translation of legal contracts, even with a language barrier, companies can conduct business with each other. They can also enter into contracts with customers who speak different native languages.

This ensures transparency and builds trust while lowering the risk of any misunderstanding or litigation. But for that to happen, contract translation services should be conducted by trained lawyers.

Who Translates Contracts?

Whether it’s translating sales contracts, invoice templates, end-user license agreements, privacy policies, or terms of service, only those trained in the law can do a diligent and trustworthy job. It’s not just because legal contracts and legal translation are closely aligned with contract translation.

It’s because only a lawyer with knowledge of the legal system of the target language country can bring a nuanced understanding to the table. A trained legal professional would know local laws, whether it’s commercial law, or if it’s common law vs. civil law. That expertise is what will make contract translation accurate and error-proof.

Without legal expertise, contract translation could end being just literal translation. This is the lazy way of translating word for word without understanding its intended usage, relevance against the overall context, and legal meaning.

Process of Contract Translation

Whether it’s B2B or B2C, there’s an established procedure that respected contract translation services providers follow. They don’t start translating a contract the moment they receive it.

A trusted contract translation services provider would have a process to ensure that when they translate contract, they have a clear understanding of the nature of the project and its stated objectives. Reputable translation providers follow the following procedure:

Determine Target Market(s)

In the first step, the translation service provider would decide upon the target languages and markets. In some cases, these would be geographically bound, whereas, in others, the target market could be spread around the world.

A B2B company that gets a contract translated from English to Mandarin is looking at the Chinese market whereas a software provider that translates privacy policies from English to Arabic could be looking at Arabic speakers the world over. 

Research Local Laws

Contract translation is only effective when the translators understand the local laws. This provides the context and the specific legal issues that may be involved in the contract. This is significant because even universally accepted laws may have localized differences or there could be laws unique to certain countries or regions.

Adapt Contract as Needed To Comply with Local Laws

This is the process whereby the contract is localized to comply with the specific laws of the region. This may not be necessary for all contracts but is vital whenever there are differences between the legal systems of the source language country and the target language country.

Format Source File to Dual-Column

A dual-column method ensures attention to detail, something that’s crucial when the contract can have legal ramifications for all concerned parties. It also helps align legal concepts and highlight aspects that may need further scrutiny.

A reviewer of the work product will benefit from a dual-column deliverable since they can match each clause of the contract to make sure nothing is missed. It also allows them to work efficiently with redlines and comments back and forth.

Hire Local Law Clerk or Lawyer for Initial Translation

Reputed translation service providers value the importance of outsourcing the task to subject experts. At this stage, they would involve a local lawyer or law clerk to give an initial draft of the contract translation. Most service providers would have a list of experienced international lawyers and clerks that they regularly hire.

Long partnerships also ensure that the local legal experts develop expertise in that niche. At ContractsGlobal, we have found that the more we avail the services of a local lawyer for privacy policies, the faster they develop mastery in that subject over time, for example.  

With each project, they will be honing their skill set and building their domain expertise which will come in handy for future contract translation or legal translation.

Review Local Legal Terminology

The translation agency would then do a comprehensive analysis of the local legal terminology in the translated draft. This is a crucial step that ensures that there’s no confusion or ambivalence between the source and target languages.  

The objective is to ensure that local phrases are accurately defined and that there are no lexical differences.

Hire Lawyer to Proofread

This is what sets apart credible contract translation service providers from others. At ContractsGlobal, for example, we always insist on second legal scrutiny from a trained lawyer. This comprehensive assessment is necessary to spot and correct any legal errors or contractual mistranslation of any kind.

Getting someone other than a lawyer to proofread will put the focus only on grammatical, typographical, and syntax errors. Hiring an outside legal expert ensures that the document is seen from a fresh legal perspective devoid of any bias. It will also bring to light any issues that may need clarification in the translated document.  

Compare Clauses and Reformat

In the final stage, the service provider who has to translate contract will compare all the clauses in the source and target languages. It’s done with a nuanced understanding of the functional objective of the contract, the problems it seeks to resolve and the clarity it hopes to achieve.

It will also compare the translation of set phrases and common legal concepts to see if there’s anything lost in translation. Finally, the translated document will be reformatted to make it stand on its own.

Common Pitfalls When Translating Contracts

Literal Translation

When you translate word for word without understanding its context, you get a literal translation. While this is a problem for most technical translations, it’s particularly troublesome when you translate contract.

Entire legal phrases and conditions could be lost in literal translation that could lead to confusion and potential litigation for the concerned parties.

Lost Legal Concepts and Wrong Local Legal Terminology

When contract translation is carried out without an in-depth understanding of the local legal framework, especially civil and commercial law, it can cause problems. Even popular legal concepts could have local variations that all parties would need to understand thoroughly.

This is the most important reason why you should avail of the services of an international law clerk or lawyer who has experience in the local laws that concern the subject of the contract.Diligence here will save you hassles later.

Contract Doesn’t Comply with Local Laws

When local legal frameworks are ignored, the contract may not comply with the local legal requirements. What’s important here is that the concerned individuals or organizations may not be aware of the noncompliance initially. From their point of view, the contract would be complete and in order. 

It’s only later when the other signatory or a customer points out the noncompliance that the organization would be aware of it. This could lead to large-scale legal problems, for example, if the contract is found to violate the privacy laws of the country.

Contract Translation Pricing Structures

Pricing for contract translation depends on the document and the volume. An online agreement or a master service agreement would have a different cost when compared to longer service level agreements, sales agreements, or distribution agreements.

The pricing also depends on whether it’s a long-term association or if it’s a one-off project. Long-term partnerships may come with retainer fees instead of per-project costs. Common pricing structures include the below: 

- Per-Word Pricing

- Per-Page Pricing

- Hourly Pricing

- Per-Document Pricing 

Why ContractsGlobal?

•  International lawyers: ContractsGlobal has a proven network of international legal experts and lawyers whose services we seek for contract translation. These are lawyers with native language proficiency and an in-depth understanding of the local legal frameworks.

•  Wide range of translation services: From data processing agreements to invoices and collection material to service level agreements to distribution agreements, ContractsGlobal can handle any contract translation.

•  Affordable rates: The international network of lawyers that we use are not employed by large law firms. This makes their services affordable.

•  Fast turnaround: Our system ensures that you will always have access to international lawyers with niche expertise. This ensures that we will be able to deliver contract translation services under tight deadlines.

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ContractsGlobal is the leading provider of legal translation services to legal teams around the world. We deliver legal translations you can trust without spending a fortune on outisde counsel.