The Ultimate Guide to Legal Translation Rates and Fees

legal translation rates

One of the most confusing aspects of legal document translation is its rates, fees, and pricing. Our goal for this article is to provide a guide on legal translation rates and how you can determine whether they are fair for your case.

Should legal translation be priced on a per-word basis? Or hourly? Or a flat fee per document? Or a mix of these?

It’s not uncommon to get quotes structured very differently from one translation company versus another, even for the same translation job. There are many reasons for this.

However, we acknowledge the need for transparency. So we created a guide that covers almost all of the factors that affect legal translation rates. We share which pricing methods are more appropriate in certain situations. Finally, we believe that each engagement requires a thorough pre-quote consultation.

How Are Legal Translation Rates Determined?

Translating legal documents is rarely a simple matter of rendering a legal text from one language into another. There are many factors involved in legal document translation, with each influencing the total cost beyond the primary task of translation.


Complexity of Subject Matter

The nature of the translation job depends on the context of the underlying case, whereas some cases have more complex language needs than others, such as immigration and compliance. When the content is particularly technical or complex, there may be additional costs toward translating such documents, including time spent on subject-matter research. While translators may require more research on certain tasks and less on others, it may take more time for a translator to get up to speed on industry-specific developments prior to starting the translation.


Language Combinations

A major factor that influences legal translation rates is which language combinations are being translated. This accounts not only for the difficulty of translating from language A into language B, but also for differences between the legal systems of the countries involved. Translation between Western European languages, including English and Spanish, tends to be less costly given the larger pool of Western language translators, qualified or not. On the other hand, Asian languages, including Japanese, Mandarin, Arabic, etc., tend to be more expensive due to the complexity of the characters and the smaller pool of competent translators available. As a result, different language combinations may lead to significant variations in legal translation rates.


Editing and Proofreading

100% accuracy in legal translation is vital because translation quality can influence outcomes in high-stakes transactions and disputes. In Occidental Petroleum Corporation and Occidental Exploration and Production Company v. The Republic of Ecuador (ICSID Case No. ARB/06/11), a dissenting arbitrator cited “serious problems of translation” (para. 68) as having improperly influenced the tribunal in arriving at a $1.7+ billion award for claimants. To ensure accuracy is never an issue, translated documents should always be proofread before delivery. Any good translation agency will have a dedicated team of translators, editors, and proofreaders to ensure accuracy and consistency across all translated documents, albeit at a premium.


Whether Ancillary Services Are Needed

If legal services ancillary to translation are required, these add to the total cost. At HIGHLEX, we provide ancillary services including transcription, document review, foreign law research, and expert reports on translation quality. Most ancillary services are billed at an hourly rate.


Turnaround Time Expectations

Legal documents are usually tied to events involving court hearings, corporate actions, and official deadlines that leave little room for delays. Compounding this, the laws and systems around the globe are constantly evolving. Templates and guidelines a month old might no longer be relevant and would need to be updated. Legal translators need to stay current on regulations in all countries involved in case these change overnight. For that reason, most translation agencies charge 50% extra for “rush” jobs. However, At HIGHLEX, we do not charge for rush jobs because we believe that every project is time-sensitive.


Translation Software Tools

Sometimes deadlines are so tight that translators use software tools to speed up their processes, giving them the scalability to meet deadlines while saving money. These tools might include high-quality OCR scanners for bulk documents, Translation Memory (TM) tools using databases of previously translated segments, and AI machine translation.

The combination of these factors determines the final price of a legal translation job. Note we didn’t include the level of experience here as a factor, because we believe that only professional and certified translators should provide legal translation services.


Should Translators Charge Hourly or Per-word Rates?

There are calls within the translation industry to move to an alternative billing strategy, such as hourly, rather than per-word. However, we maintain that per-word rates are appropriate in most cases. In our experience, 70-80% of our total billing is on a per-word basis and the rest on an hourly basis.

So how do we determine whether to use per-word or hourly?

We go with what seems fair. We will not bill per-word if hourly will clearly be more cost-effective for our client.

For example, a client might need translation of a document that is similar to what we’ve already translated before. It could also be a highly repetitive document with similar or identical language segments. In this case, we bill hourly to update the document using a prior template. Bilingual documents are another example where we charge hourly, simply to check the translation quality and make edits as necessary.


Sharing Your Specific Needs With Us Will Result in the Best and Fairest Quote

We begin each engagement with a focused discussion on the language issues relevant to your case, including the above factors, before providing a non-binding quote.

After we provide a quote and it is accepted, we formalize the quote in a statement of work (SOW) that is included within the client’s Master Services Agreement. The SOW typically includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Per word rate for ordinary translation
  • Hourly rates for all other services required (editing, DTP, report preparation, etc.)
  • Any expenses incidental to the provision of services

Generally, due to the aforementioned factors and the time-sensitive nature of the work involved, all legal translation jobs require qualified expertise and fast turnaround times. We also understand how important it is to be transparent and upfront about all potential costs, so we are as comprehensive as possible in our initial consultation with first-time clients.

For more information about our legal translation rates and fees, talk to us and get a custom quote.

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