What exactly are legal translation services?

We live in a fast paced and globalising world. Such structure creates multilingual communities, which is especially visible in larger cities, such as, for example, London. Today, it is easier than ever for businesses to approach international markets and offer their products or services to an overseas clientele. The growth in international business and trading also created an increased demand for legal services which specialise in international laws. Nowadays, businesses and individuals trade across borders and therefore often require legal services which cover worldwide and transnational issues in a number of different languages.

Working with a translation agency specialising in legal translations can be extremely beneficial for any law firm or business trading internationally. Whether it’s patents, contracts, terms & conditions or legal disputes with clients and partners, a translation company will in in many cases not only save costs, but also company image. But are legal translations different from any other form of translation? Do they need to be conducted by a specifically qualified linguist?

Legal sector expertise

When conducing a translation of a legal documents or other legal materials, high accuracy and reliability is, quite simply, indispensable. If a document is translated or interpreted incorrectly, it could in many instances be harmful to the legal case, and in some situations, it could change its outcome completely. When working with official documents or on behalf of a business or a law firm, professional legal translators take a truly great responsibility on their shoulders. In fact, a linguist who specialises in translating for the legal sector would usually have a background in a specific law area, whether it’s patent, commercial or banking law, consequently being experts not only in the language itself, but also within a particular sector of the law.

Often, business owners and law firms turn to free online translation tools, such as Google translate, in order to translate official documents and material.

While such tools can be a fantastic instrument for private use, for example, to communicate with friends and family who speak in another language, they should not be used for any professional use, and they simply cannot yet guarantee accuracy and translations conducted by such tools are not recognised by official institutions, government bodies or courts of law. As you can imagine, an inaccurately translated document can often be the cause of serious problems, not only for individual clients, but also for the entire organisation.

Cultural challenges

Yet another challenge legal linguists must face are laws and policies which often differ from market to market and country to country. Although these policies are different, they still need to be translated and carefully localised so that the original meaning of the message is kept. A great example of this could be the names of courts and other similar terminology. Is ‘High Court’ the equivalent to ‘Supreme Court’? Are ‘Solicitor’s and ‘Barristers’ the same? A professional legal translator will be able to accurately translate such nuances and ensure the highest quality of translation.

Frequently, particular legal systems, policies and laws are a direct representation and a reflection of the societies which they originated and function in. Usually they are based on cultural, religious and historical values which exist within the target country. As a result, to be able to fully understand and convey a legal message, linguist working on translating your documents must be also aware of the cultural and social differences between the source and target countries.

As legal translations need to strictly maintain the original structure and meaning of their original source, terminology which is directly and linked to the culture, may be irrelevant or even non-existent in the target language. In such situations, a professional legal translator is required to search for the most suitable equivalent terms and linguistic structure, which matches with the source text.

Legal translation and certification

A very important aspect of professional legal translation services is the official certification of your translated document. Frequently, translated legal documents are submitted to official bodies such as courts of law or government institutions. When using free online tools, you will not be able to certify your documents and confirm the document’s authenticity, alongside a statement of truth, which confirms accuracy. On the other hand, working with translation companies specialising in providing legal translation services will allow you to officially certify the translation and consequently making it acceptable for submission in the previously mentioned institutions.

As you can see, conducting legal translation services is more complicated than it would appear at first. From understanding the differences between legal systems and cultures to providing official certifications, professional legal translators and interpreters must take a great responsibility when working with official documents.