Best Practices for Legal Document Translation Services

legal document translation services

How do you make sure you get accurate translations for legal documents? What are the best practices for legal document translation services?

Your translation not only should convey the intended meaning of the original document, but also stand up in court. You might even be looking at getting a certified translation because it’s required or the other party is already using certified translations.

We cover the translation process step-by-step and the best practices for ensuring complete accuracy.


The Legal Translation Process in 5 Steps

Once the scope and timeline are agreed upon, the translation process would undergo the following steps:

1. Preparation

Before translating a document, it needs to be digitized, prepared, and pre-edited. Original documents would be scanned and OCR’ed into digital copies. Text recognition programs, however, may misread certain letters if they are illegible, especially if there are signatures, handwritten texts, and stamps overlapping the text. Therefore, these scanned texts must be checked thoroughly—and any errors fixed—to ensure exact matches with the original document.

2. Translation

Once pre-edited, the actual translation can now ensue. Translators either use computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools or work from scratch. They might speed up the process using translation memory, including databases of previously translated passages, glossaries, and terminologies. They may also save their manual translations to the database to speed up future translations of similar documents.

3. Editing and Proofreading

Once the translation is complete, it needs to be edited and proofread to ensure complete accuracy. This may be done by a second translator or a linguist. The linguist would review and correct any mistranslations of the intended meaning of the original document. Finally, they’d proofread the document to fix any grammar, syntax, or punctuation errors while making final adjustments to ensure the text is 100% accurate.

4. DTP Translation and Formatting

The next step is Desktop Publishing (DTP), which adapts visuals and graphics into the target language. Typically, the design department responsible for DTP would format graphics and make corrections to layouts before finalizing the documents.

5. Certification

Depending on how the translated document will be used, certification may be required. At HIGHLEX, we certify our translations for accuracy by affixing a statement warranting that each translation is performed by a qualified linguist. The wording for each certification may vary based on our clients’ requirements. Notarization is typically not required for purposes of submission to a US court or executive agency.

Do’s and Don’ts of Legal Document Translation Services

In this section, we explain how to make sure you get the most accurate translation possible—and three most common pitfalls to avoid.

Know the Laws, Not Just the Languages

Legal translation is not merely about translating from one language into another. It requires knowledge of both the legal system from which the documents originate, and the one presented to. Additionally, translators also need to understand the cultures and terminologies in all jurisdictions involved. Unfortunately, many translators overlook this crucial aspect of legal translation, particularly in cases of complex litigation and conflict-of-laws cases.

Be Clear On How the Document Will Be Used

Some documents will be used in court. Others will be used for information purposes. When translating a legal document, the purpose of that document needs to be clarified from the start. If a document needs to be submitted to court, it should be certified. Otherwise, not every section of the document may need to be translated—such as cover pages, signature pages, addresses, and handwritten notes—thus saving on translation costs.

Make Sure the Translation Will Stand Up In Court

Accuracy is the single most important factor that determines whether a translated document will stand up in court. To make sure a document would be accepted, it must be edited and proofread to full accuracy before delivery. Then it needs to go through the validation and certification processes, especially if required by the court.

Common Mistake #1: Not Getting The Right Expertise

Without the right linguistic expertise, translators may fall into the trap of literally translating a document word-for-word. This is a big no-no for many reasons, including phrases where the literal translation actually changes the original meaning. Some of these word-for-word translations can, at best, be embarrassing and nonsensical. At worst, they can lead to serious consequences costing millions of dollars.

Rather, skilled translators focus on conveying the original and intended meaning in the translated document. Even so, they may have a second linguist check their work.

Common Mistake #2: Lack of Effective Communication

Legal translation is an intensive process that requires open communication between the client, project manager, and translators. However, many vendor agreements prohibit direct communication between a translator and a client. We believe this creates unnecessary barriers that hurt more than they help, and can even lead to misunderstandings. To avoid such misunderstandings, translators doing the bulk of the work should be able to communicate directly with clients if necessary.

Common Mistake #3: Relying Too Much On Machine Translation

While machine translation and CAT tools can speed up the overall process, these cannot entirely be relied on. These technologies are not advanced enough to convey the meaning from one language into another, and probably will never be. Legal document translation will always require thorough input and checks by translators, linguistic experts, and attorneys.

Ensuring Quality Standards in Legal Document Translation Services

Not all translation services have the same quality standards. So how do you check the quality of a translation service? Especially if you don’t speak both languages?

It’s not only about checking the translation accuracy itself, but also the speed of delivery, how well they communicate, and how easy it is to do business with them while handling sensitive information under tight deadlines.

The best and safest way to assure top quality in legal translation is to use a translator who has already passed a rigorous certification exam, such as that offered by the American Translators Association (ATA), or to use a translation agency that employs ATA-certified translators.

The bottom line? A translated document is only as good as its effectiveness in communicating the intended meaning to its target audience.

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