The Importance of Terminology in Legal Translations

The Importance of Terminology in Legal Translations - Blog Post Featured Image

With our world becoming more connected each day, business transactions and even legal proceedings are now regularly considered cross border affairs. However, this globalization doesn’t change the highly specific rules and regulations that need to be adhered to within each unique legal jurisdiction. That’s where legal translators come in. Whether we realize it or not, we interact with legal translations on a daily basis. From translated terms & conditions for services or apps we use on our smartphones, to international banking and even online shopping. These translations are vital to the smooth operation of international trade and cross border travel that we, in this digital age, often take for granted.

Legal translation is an integral part of society, ensuring a smooth transition between legal systems. Translating marketing content from one language into another requires insight into how the target market thinks and feels, and how to resonate with them on a personal level. This creativity is matched in legal translations with a demand for accuracy so high that some translators must first be court-approved and can be called to testify to the accuracy of their translations of important legal documents. This is a highly-specialized niche with expertly trained and experienced translators (and interpreters).

How is Legal Translation Different from General Translation?

Legal translation is the translation of documents from one language to another that are used in a legal context. It often means translating legal documents from one legal system for use in a completely different one. Legal structures can vary widely between regions, let alone countries and sometimes even continents. The pressure is truly on to produce 100% accurate results that are fit for purpose, the first time. It’s vital that only qualified, experienced professionals work on these types of documents. After all, the resulting translated texts will be used as an aid in the making of legally binding decisions. They can have a significant real life impact. The consequences of failure are so severe that mistranslation of a legal document could spell disaster for a case, induce huge financial losses, or even come at a human cost.

Types of Legal Translations

  • Legal translators deal with a wide variety of legal documents; beginning with the more straightforward educational certificates such as degrees, identification documents like passports, birth, marriage and death certificates, but also including things like work permits, divorce decrees, etc.
  • Next, are more complex court-related documentation for use in international court cases. Businesses of all sizes regularly require the translation of their important documentation when entering new regional markets or entering into cross border trade deals with foreign businesses. These types of translations can include trade contracts, shareholder books, or even company registration information for trade licences and rely on an in depth understanding of international trade law.
  • Finally, legal translators are often called upon to translate documents for criminal and civil proceedings being transferred from one country’s legal jurisdiction to another, or even cases involving Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals in the United States who, by law, are afforded language access services. From important witness statements to court records, arrest warrants to evidence files and more; these documents must be translated to be appropriate for use within the new legal structure in which they will be used, without compromising their meaning in any way. There is far less room for interpretation in the area of legal translation than in any other.

Legal Terminology

No one would be surprised to learn that legal documents tend to be laden with legal jargon and specialized terminology, difficult to understand and often convoluted in the way they are written. This is done in an attempt to avoid any possible misunderstandings or create unintentional loop holes with the use of vague language. Learning to proficiently comprehend and write legal documents requires a great deal of training and experience. Likewise, the job of a legal translator demands not only fluency in each language, but also a comprehensive understanding of the legal processes in multiple regions.

No Two Legal Systems are the Same

The art of translating across language barriers and legal systems is one that bears significant risk. Legal documents themselves can seem impossible to decipher to an untrained eye. The legal translator must similarly ensure that their translation adheres to the same standard of accuracy demanded in any legal documentation, while also compensating for any differences in the legal systems of the two texts.

For example, in the US, the tone of legal documentation is usually straight to the point, utilizing a very active tone of voice. In contrast, legal documents in the UK use a much more passive tone, relying on the content of the text to convey the appropriate importance of any given piece. Here, the difficult task of balancing these responsibilities becomes apparent, especially when translating from one language into another.

Legal systems can also vary in the actual laws applicable in a given context. Some laws may not exist or could differ a great deal between countries. This is referred to as ‘private international law’, or more commonly as a ‘conflict of laws’. To achieve accurate translations that are error free and make sense to those trained in a different legal system, legal translators must rely on their understanding of each system and the terminologies utilized in both.

Legal Terms can Cause Confusion

For example, the terms ‘trial’ and ‘hearing’ in the US and UK legal systems respectively can refer to the same stages during similar proceedings. While, in the US, every criminal prosecution has the option of a jury trial, the same is not true in the UK. In the UK, there are stages to the proceedings which include magistrate hearings over a full trial. In translating between these two legal systems, even with a shared language, seemingly straightforward terminology can cause confusion.

Using Logical Reasoning

In the translation of legal documents, it’s not just terminology that translators must contend with. With each translation, everyday expressions and colloquialisms in one language must be accurately translated into the target language while keeping in mind the appropriateness of the language used. An innocuous statement in the source language could be offensive in another. A translator must also be vigilant for mistakes in the source text, as undetected errors could cause unintentional miscommunications and ultimately have dire consequences.

Mistakes are Never Worth the Risk

Your company may be liable if there are mistakes. To make sure this doesn’t happen, it’s imperative to employ only the most experienced, certified legal translators. It requires years of training and experience to develop the skills and knowledge required to translate legal documents. For your peace of mind, all PGLS legal translators are both highly-skilled native speaking linguists, with the legal expertise necessary to translate your documents with the utmost accuracy.