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.
(***READ MORE: Professional translation process according to ISO 17100:2015)
2# ConfidentialityAlmost 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:
- Comparative law, i.e., a basic knowledge of the legal systems of both the source and target languages;
- Familiarity with the specific terminology of the particular legal field(s); and
- The ability to write in the specific legal “style” of the target language.