Legal translation and interpretation are specific sectors in the industry. They require significant knowledge not only of the source and target language but also of the legal systems of both countries. In most of the cases, the people who work as legal translators are jurist with a diploma in the field of law and significant experience.

Each country and institution have specific requirements to their legal interpreters and translators. Some prefer to work with in-house personnel while others employ established freelancers or contract specialized service language providers. The Court of Justice of the European Union, for example, employs only jurists who have completed their education in law and who have a thorough knowledge of at least two languages other than their mother tongue. The people working there are called lawyer-linguists and are in charge of translating highly technical legal texts.  

In the USA there are no universal requirements for legal translation, each jurisdiction or institution may impose its own rules. There may be requirements as to the qualification of the interpreter or translation, necessity to present certain form of certification or other evidence proving their abilities to work in the field. 

Where do legal interpreters and translators work? 

It is good to differentiate between the job of the legal interpreter and that of the legal translator. In order to decide which service, you should know know: 

  • Legal interpreters work with the spoken word – they render oral content from one language into the other. Legal interpreters can work in courtrooms, companies, government institutions, NGOs. They can be used for over-the-phone interpreting services (OPI) or for video remote interpreting (VRI). Legal interpreters can provide simultaneous interpretation as seen during meetings of the United Nations or consecutive interpretation as seen in a courtroom when a witness/lawyer/judge makes pauses in their speech to provide room for interpretation in the target language. 
  • Legal translators work with written texts. They can translate court documents, patents, contracts, medical documentation. The focus of their work is to provide the most accurate and faithful translation of the content so that the translated text will be understood by legal experts the same way it is understood in the source language.  

It is not correct to assume that only courts or law office employ legal interpreters and translators. While they mainly help with court proceedings, the professionals are also needed during witness interrogations at police stations or facilitating oral and written communication between businesses. 

A company, that strives to expand globally will need to have its website translated and localized along with the description of its services and products. An important part of the document translation is the translation of sales contracts, user manuals or other technical documentation. Here, the knowledge of the legal requirements and their proper incorporation in the text are of a paramount importance. 

How can professional legal interpretation/translation save you millions? 

When it comes to legal translation, a single word can make or break a case. Both interpreters and translators of legal content strive for accuracy and high quality and focus on the specific cultural differences of each legal system. 

They are aware of the proper translation of contract names, acts or regulations, so that there is no misunderstanding. One of the important tasks of the professional is to avoid ambiguity in the text. Nobel prize winner Günter Grass described the process of translation saying that “Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.” This can be applied to legal translation and interpretation to show the important role they play. 

There are many cases, when an improper translation caused a company to pay millions to remedy the mistake. Mistranslating even a single word can cause havoc and even lead to lawsuits.  

Some words which are treated as synonyms in English may have different meaning in another language that can twist the entire content. This is the case with warranty and guarantee, which can be substituted in English but have different power when translated into German. While the guarantee is an obligatory cause included in a contract, warranty is optional and depends on the decision of the seller whether to include it as a cause or not. Now, imagine that you have to market a new product in Germany and the sales contract is improperly translated to accommodate guarantee instead of warranty in German? You may end up buried with consumer requests to compensate them for a product, which you have not initially envisaged in your English version. 

Therefore, it is important to hire a professional when it comes to translation and interpretation of legal content. Only an experienced legal translator and interpreter will provide you with a literate rather than literal or verbatim translation. Your initial investment in a quality translation service will pay back on the long run. 

Three important factors of legal translation 

When we speak of legal translation, there are three factors that are quite important, whether the translator works for a governmental institution, court or international corporation. These are: 

  • Accuracy 
  • Clarity 
  • Speed  

A qualified legal translator can provide a timely service that offers a high-quality final product. Speed shall not compromise the accuracy and clarity of the translated text. It should be just an additional plus that a translation company or freelancer can offer. In many cases, there are time constraints for the submission of the translated text, which are quite important. Hence, if you are to hire a pro for your next patent translation, for example, make sure that they can offer accurate and clearly translated text done within a reasonable timeframe.  

The main takeaway is that legal translation and interpretation are a very specific part of the industry that requires a highly professional approach. Do not risk by trusting your import legal documents into the hands of inexperienced or unprofessional “translators.” Make sure that you get a quality service that won’t require remedies afterwards.  

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