Top 3 difficulties faced in legal document translation

Top 3 difficulties faced in legal document translation

Legal parlance if it needs translation, needs the services of an expert that is highly knowledgeable in legal terms and practices. Translating legal documents needs accurate and correct translation and is one of the most difficult among all translation work.

Translating legal documents needs accurate and correct translation and is one of the most difficult among all translation work. Translators should not only possess general knowledge of legal terminology, they should also be well versed in statutory requirements and the legal intricacies of foreign cultural and legal systems of those countries. By years of working on hundred of legal translation projects, I have concluded the following top 3 difficulties faced in legal document translation.

1# Deadline is a matter

Legal translation carries strict deadlines because when the translated documents are needed particularly in court, a delay might render the document null and void. To catch up with the timeliness, a translator may face dozens of pages of legal documents to be translated in a short period of time. The task would be merely impossible without an extensive expertise, application of technology, and availability of seamlessly workflow and measures for quality control.

The deadline should not compromise quality. Many translators now are benefiting from Machine Translation. It helps solve the time limit aspect. However, an MT translation has yet to meet all the strict requirements for a legal translation. Thus, MT should be only taken as a part of the project strategy, not as the final delivery. One of the most common ways to deal with deadlines is to split up the work volume and make assignments to others. In this case, consistency should be specifically paid attention to. Besides, you can use quality control tools like Apsic Xbench to boost processing time while still effectively controlling the overall quality of the translation.

2# Confidentiality

Almost all legal documents contain sensitive data. Unauthorized disclosure of information may lead to potential material damage, either to individual or corporate clients. That’s why many clients ask for a NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement).  In practice, there are certain aspects to keep in mind regarding confidentiality:
  • Email access at public locations. Public wifi is always a hot spot for hackers.
  • Discussion with family members or friends about the case. As words can fly, your information can be overheard or accidentally communicated to a “person-in-need” who you might not know.
  • Use of public photocopy/scan services. A copy can be saved for illegal purpose. Consider using only trusted service provider.
  • Discard of printed documents into trash bin. You will have no control of discarded documents. So use a shredder before discarding any documents.
  • Access to suspicious websites. You may have to search for the meaning of a lot of terms, or to read a lot of materials for reference. Stay alert with suspicious signs on those document-sharing websites.

3# Language and terminology

Lawyers, when dealing with international legal problems have to deal with words that should be accurately written, which depend on good sentence structure, syntax and word selection. That is the reason why legal translators should have the necessary experience and knowledge of legal terminologies of both the source and target languages.

Translating legal documents in foreign languages are considered more difficult than other technical translations. The legal terminology is what makes it difficult because each country has its own legal terminology as well as legal system. More often than not, this is also different from another country even if the language they speak is identical.

For example, an appeals court in the U.S. would be very different from that in Vietnam, as it acts as a cassation which only reviews the procedure, not the facts and evidence.

As you might know, the legal world can be divided into 3 systems, namely Civil law (mainland Europe), Common law (UK-US), and Asian law. There are various terms that exist in a legal system but not in the others. As a result, the translator would have to exert his/her understanding or refer to a lot of references to first get the gist of such terms and then come up with the most suitable translation.

The risk of mistranslating would apparently occur in such case that the translator subjectively applies a translation without the back of a careful research.

What are requirements for a legal translator?

Professional legal translator requires competence in at least three different areas: 

  1. Comparative law, i.e., a basic knowledge of the legal systems of both the source and target languages; 
  2. Familiarity with the specific terminology of the particular legal field(s); and 
  3. The ability to write in the specific legal “style” of the target language. 
Due to this, the professional translator of legal documents must be part detective, legal scholar and linguist. This helps him in mastering interpreting the legal concepts expressed in the source language, understanding the intended use of his translation to select the best equivalent from target language, and reflect the exact accurate meaning smoothly. Additionally, in case of working on legal disputes involving legal systems and different languages, a patent translator should master bridging the divide of legal systems, languages and cultures to provide sound translation. Due to the rigorous standards adopted in courts worldwide, mistranslated texts, inaccuracy and amateur translations are not acceptable at all. Such mistakes may lead to unexpected delay, opportunity loss or even legal fees, thus you should usually take such kind of translations seriously and refer only to professional agencies or patent attorneys for having your documents translated.


Legal document translation is such a demanding task. It requires professional legal translators that have the right academic background, and are backed by years of legal translation expertise. Therefore, careful research of the area of law is necessary to understand those concepts behind the terminology and ensure the translation of the idea and not merely the words.

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Top 3 difficulties faced in legal document translation

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