In the legal industry, perhaps more than anywhere, it’s critical to avoid getting “lost in translation”—and legal translation is no different.
Legal translation is a valuable tool for solicitors and their clients. In some cases, it’s a necessity. For example, when a defendant doesn’t speak or understand English, legal translation is their bridge to understanding what’s happening.
Understandably, the consequences of a mistranslation can be dire. So, how do you ensure you’re hiring the right legal translator and keeping everyone on the same page? Today, we’ll be looking at common mistranslation errors and the steps you can take to minimise risk when working with a legal translator.
Why legal translations must be accurate
Solicitors use legal translation services in many different contexts. Take a business deal, for example. Let’s say a company is investing in China. They need to have contracts and agreements with their Chinese partners. Those contracts and agreements need to be handled by a legal document translation platform.
Solicitors may also need legal translation services when processing applications for immigrants, students, and international travellers. In many cases, the government will require translations for foreign language documents.
The criminal justice system also relies heavily on legal translation. In cases where one or more parties speak a different language, translation and interpretation become necessary tools for the court to pursue justice.
Risks and consequences of legal translation errors
Translating a legal document is challenging, primarily because the consequences of a mistake or mistranslation can have significant impacts on a person’s life or business.
And, as we’re all aware, legal terminology can sometimes feel like a language of its own. Ensuring that a translator can translate in a legal setting is critical for accurate translations.
Mistranslations in contracts
A simple mistranslation in a legal document can be costly. A mistranslated or missing word on, say, a contract can delay the finalisation of an agreement and even invalidate contracts, leading to financial losses and the risk of a lawsuit.
Mistranslations in legal documents
Beyond contracts, mistranslations in legal documents can have other devastating effects. For example, a mistranslation could result in a collapsed deal if you’re assisting a client in purchasing foreign property. Or, if you’re helping a client with an immigration application, a mistranslation could result in a rejected application—risking your client’s ability to stay in the country.
Mistranslations in court
The most severe effect of mistranslations is on verdicts.
Court proceedings often require translators—for example, documents submitted into evidence may need to be translated, or witnesses may need to provide testimony with the assistance of a translator.
In these cases, a mistranslation can significantly impact the trial. A mistranslation is an evidentiary error—and, depending on how the court uses the translation, an infringement of a party’s constitutional rights—that can result in a mistrial or appeal.
Mistranslations and reputation
Beyond the legal risks associated with mistranslation, a mistranslation in a contract or legal document can affect a client’s reputation—to say nothing of your reputation. Quite simply, a mistranslation doesn’t look great.
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How to ensure accuracy in legal translation
So, what steps can you take to ensure the accuracy of a legal translation?
Below are just a few things to consider when determining whether a legal translation is accurate:
- The translation should not leave any doubt as to its meaning. For example, translating the word “free” to “libre” in Spanish would technically be correct. However, both words have different meanings depending on context—and if they aren’t being used in their proper context, mistranslations will arise.
- The translated words should be as precise as possible. For example, if the translator translates “humerus bone” to “arm bone”, the translation will be incorrect as it lacks the specificity of the original words.
- It should not contain any grammar or syntax errors. On top of the need for correctness in legal documents, errors can also lead to other mistakes or call the strength of the translation into question.
- The legal translation must meet any compliance requirements of the country or region where the document will be used.
Qualities of an excellent legal translation company
The best way to minimise your risk of an inaccurate legal translation is to work with a reputable, experienced translation services provider.
At a minimum, you’ll want to ensure any translation company you hire offers the following:
- Confidentiality: Data privacy and confidentiality requirements often apply to legal documents. Look for a company that has a strict process as to who can access your documents. A company that is lax regarding document access will be a liability for you.
- Accuracy: When you get a translation that is 96% accurate, that means a 1,000-word document will have 40 mistranslations. That’s not really inspiring confidence. You need a translation company that can deliver highly accurate outputs that will be free from errors.
- On-time: Accuracy is meaningless if the task isn’t finished on time. Pick a company that has a record of meeting deadlines.
- Covers most language pairs: While some language pairs are more in demand than others (for instance, Spanish and Cantonese), using a legal translation company that covers other languages is important if you’re looking to develop a long-term relationship with the translation company.
- Legal expertise: The legal translation company should have specialists who are familiar with the legal system of the country where the translation will be used. Legal translation isn’t just about language—it’s also about understanding legal terminology.
Legal translation providers
There is no lack of legal translation providers online. In some ways, that’s the problem: there are too many options out there. Here are the top options for translation services to help you out:
- Tomedes Translation Services
- Amtrade Translation & Interpretation Services
- GTE Localize
These are not the only available translation services, but they are the top-rated ones. Don’t waste time scouring the internet, having a list of reputable legal translation companies can save you hours.
How to translate legal documents
Translators typically follow the steps below when translating legal documents:
- Prepare an updated glossary for the legal terms that might be used in the translation.
- Review the document to be translated. This is important to ensure that the translator is familiar with the required format and that he can handle the translation.
- Set a deadline for the first draft of the translation.
- Conduct the actual translation. How long it takes to do the translation depends on the length and complexity of the document and the translator’s skill.
- Review the initial draft. The translation company will review the draft before giving it to the client.
- Revise the translation based on the feedback from the reviewers.
Importance of language in the legal system
The law is based on language, which is why translation services are so crucial to the legal system. Accuracy in these services and the language is a core ingredient of justice. That’s why accuracy should be a core focus for translators.
Legal transcription services can help clear up things in a different way from translation and interpretation. Having a reliable, trustworthy legal transcription platform is just as important. The same is true with interpreters. Outsourcing services such as translation save you time.
We published this blog post in January 2024. Last updated: .
Categorized in: Business