Best Practices for the Translation of Official and Legal Documents 

Best Practices for the Translation of Official and Legal Documents

Based on 2018 census data, 67.3 million U.S. residents, both immigrants and native-born, speak a language other than English at home. As we near 2023, it’s safe to say that number has likely grown. Stats like this underscore the need for services that support language translation, including the ability to translate official and legal documents.   

With legal proceedings ramping up again post-pandemic, and more immigrants and foreign visitors entering the U.S. than ever before, the demand for legal document translation services has been on the rise.  

If you find yourself in need of a document translation service, it’s important to understand why and when the translation of official documents is required before you move forward. Here are some points to keep in mind. 

When Translation of Official and Legal Documents is Required 

Translation refers primarily to written documentation. Any legal case going through the discovery process, which includes a client or witness that speaks a foreign language, will have documents that require translation for use in depositions or as exhibits in court. In addition, given the complexity of legal verbiage itself, courts require translation to be provided if an individual is not completely fluent in English.   

Any type of document or written text considered pertinent to a case can be translated for legal purposes. Depending on the type of law involved, this could include text messages, WhatsApp conversations, social posts, emails, accident claims, business agreements, birth certificates, contracts, sales forms, divorce papers, prenups from another country, or prenups written here and translated into the language of the spouse.  

If it’s in written form, and intended for use in a legal proceeding, it must be translated, submitted, and filed. It must have a certificate of accuracy. Certified translation services demonstrate that the translator understood the language of the original document and translated it to the best of their ability.  

In terms of the types of organizations that require official document translation, it runs the gamut. Any organization that works with clients in other countries, or with clients who are not fluent in English within the U.S., will have a need for this service. The majority, however, are legal firms and the attorneys who work for them, including any firm that has an office outside of the U.S. or that deals with cases pertaining to foreign individuals or entities. 

How to Translate Official Documents 

When it comes to the act of translating official documents, there are two primary methods used depending on the circumstance: 

AI Document Translation 

AI, or machine-based, translation is used primarily when there are mass volumes of documents during the discovery phase. For example, if a client has a patent case with thousands of written pages and needs to translate them to determine which documents should be submitted as evidence.  

At this volume, machine translation comes in at a lower cost than human document translation, but with an accuracy rate of only about 80%-90%. For this reason, and because it does not involve a human being, it cannot have a certificate of accuracy associated with it or be submitted into court proceedings. As a rule, AI document translation is considered ideal when fast turnaround times and lower costs, rather than accuracy, are a priority. 

Human Document Translation 

Once AI translation has determined which specific pages or documents should be used,  a human translator must officially translate each document and ensure that a certificate of accuracy accompanies the court submission.   

When the highest level of accuracy is required, human translation is the only option. In addition to meeting legal standards, human translation provides greater familiarity with dialects, nuances of languages, and legal terminology compared to literal AI translations that lack the ability to detect slang or double meaning within a phrase.   

Considerations for Selecting an Official Document Translation Provider 

When the time comes to select an official document translation company, keep these considerations in mind:  

  • Providers who only offer AI document translation cannot provide a certificate of accuracy, so if you move forward with filing those documents in court, you risk legal repercussions. 
  • Those who solely provide AI translation will put forth a literal translation of a document, which could go against your case depending on what you’re trying to prove. 
  • Make sure any provider that offers AI-based document translation uses an SOC Type 2-compliant platform with robust security measures. 
  • Select a provider with strong adherence to security protocols, including two-factor authentication and secure sharing practices vs. using Gmail or another unprotected avenue. 
  • Look for a provider that is familiar with many languages and dialects, and how phrases can differ in meaning from one country to another. 
  • Find a provider with experience in technical cases and legal terminology. For example, the fifth amendment is a legal concept that exists in the U.S., but not other countries. It’s important to be able to translate a word that may not exist in the language it’s being translated into.  

One final consideration: If you choose to not use a professional legal translation provider, and instead opt for an AI-based online program, keep in mind that many of the more commonly used programs are free. This means they are widely available and that, once a document has been translated, that information remains accessible on the internet to anyone determined enough to look for it. This is a crucial issue, given legal documents and their contents are highly sensitive and private. If an attorney runs his or her documents through these platforms, they open themselves up to possible security threats and breaches, and further liabilities.  

Closing Arguments for Using Official Document Translation Services 

There are 7,151 languages spoken worldwide today. Around 422 of those languages are currently spoken in the United States. Given this, it’s not surprising that the global legal translation services market is expected to grow at a rate of 2.37% CAGR from 2021-2027, reaching nearly $45 Billion by 2027. 

This rise in demand reflects what I’ve experienced in the legal document translation arena, with the need for these services rising dramatically from when I started in the industry nearly 20 years ago.  

Given those legal proceedings are official and binding, it’s of the greatest importance to ensure you and all parties fully understand the contents of every document involved in a legal case. Using an experienced professional translation services provider puts you in the best position to understand, and act on, legal filings.  

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Content published on the U.S. Legal Support blog is reviewed by professionals in the legal and litigation support services field to help ensure accurate information.