Translators provide their services to a broad range of industries, and one of the most complex of those is the legal profession.  The court system and legal offices routinely seek out high-quality translations for a wide variety of legal documents, including business contracts, birth certificates, wills and trusts, divorce and marriage certificates, financial statements, legal briefs, immigration paperwork, case summaries and adoptions papers, to name just a few. Because legal documentation can often be complicated, and the possible ramifications of errors is so great, there are several pitfalls to avoid when having legal documents translated. If you are in the legal profession and are in need of high-quality translation services, it’s important that you understand these pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Entrusting your translation to an inexperienced translator

When you’ve worked within an industry for a certain amount of time, it’s easy to make the assumption that people outside the profession understand more than they really do. This is certainly the case for judges, lawyers, paralegals, law clerks, etc., all of whom have a strong familiarity and knowledge of the specialized vocabulary of the law. But just because legal jargon has become second nature to you, don’t believe that the same is true for people outside your profession. Even the most talented, experienced translator can make mistakes if he/she has no experience within the legal field. Your translator needs to be not only fluent in the language(s) involved; he/she needs to have a strong knowledge of legal terminology. If you choose one who does not, you may end up with a bad translation. And that can have serious consequences.

Bringing in a translator at the last minute

Translating a document involves more than simply converting words from one language to another. It also involves standardizing the language used, utilizing a style guide commonly used within the industry for consistency and to ensure that widely acceptable standards are employed, and building a glossary of legal terminology and an internal style sheet that can be utilized for other related documentation. This is virtually impossible to accomplish if you wait until the last minute to hire a translator. Instead, seek out the services of a qualified linguist – one who is fluent in both the target language(s) and “legalese” – early on in the process. A trusted translator is one who can work with you throughout the different phases of a case, ensuring that all related documentation is consistent and of the highest quality possible.

Using machine translation

Depending on any type of machine translation is, without a doubt, the biggest and most costly pitfall to avoid when it comes to having legal documents translated. Even the most “advanced” of machine translation tools are totally inadequate for any type of professional business translation, but especially so for legal documentation. The vast majority of machine translation tools translate word-for-word, without taking into account such nuances as word usage, language standards set forth by industry-accepted style guides, or how languages are impacted by cultural differences; much less the specialized terminology used within the legal profession.

Now that we’ve discussed what not to do, let’s talk briefly about what you should do when preparing to have your legal documents translated. We can sum it up very succinctly: begin by contacting a reputable translation company. Choose one that not only employs the services of translators who are fluent in your target language(s), but also one that utilizes the services of linguists with a strong background in the legal profession. Working hand-in-hand with a qualified group of language professionals is the only way to ensure that your translated legal documents are of the highest quality possible.