Why is Legal Translation Important?

Importance of legal document translation

In today’s globalized landscape, legal translation is often necessary for everything from courtroom proceedings to contract negotiations. However, legal translation goes beyond just changing words from one language to another.

It’s about ensuring the legal nuances, linguistic details, and overall weight of a document are accurately conveyed in the target language. Understanding legal terminology is vital during proceedings, and the consequences of inaccurate legal translation are often critical—from immigration cases to business dealings. Without proper comprehension, legal disputes can quickly escalate and lead to drawn-out legal proceedings that could have been avoided with an accurate technical translation of official documents.

In this post, we’re discussing why legal translation is important, and what impact it can have on legal accuracy and fairness.

Understanding the Role of Legal Translation

Legal translation refers to the translation of documents used for litigation and other legal purposes. It’s a specialized field that demands a deep understanding of both languages involved (the source language and the target language) as well as the legal systems they’re operating in. Translating legal documents is vital for efficient court proceedings.

Why is legal translation important? It’s essential for: 

  • Bridging language gaps Legal documents are often filled with complex terminology and specific nuance. Accurate translations ensure these elements are correctly conveyed in the target language.
  • Navigating legal systems Different countries have vastly different legal frameworks and procedures. Legal translators must not only understand the meaning of legal terms but also their application in the target language.
  • Preserving legal intent The intent and purpose of original legal documents must remain in any translations. This requires a thorough comprehension of the legal context—and the ability to translate concepts, rather than just words.
  • Ensuring legal validity In some cases, translated documents need to be presented in court or other official proceedings. Legal translators ensure these documents adhere to specific requirements (such as certification), guaranteeing their legal validity.
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Legal Translation in Law and Business

The need for accurate legal translation becomes readily apparent when exploring its impact on two specific use cases: law and business. Understanding the types of legal translation is paramount for an efficient legal process.

Legal Translation in Law

The law depends on an accurate, shared understanding of legal codes, existing laws, proceedings, and more. However, discrepancies arising from inaccurate translations cause this understanding to break down:

  • In court proceedings, legal translation helps ensure all parties receive the fair trials and due process their rights afford. Documents entered into the record—such as witness testimonies, contracts, and relevant legal rulings establishing precedents often need accurate translations.
  • In cases involving international operations or disputes, translation plays a central role in facilitating clear communication between legal teams from different countries.
  • Accurate translation is often needed for legal research and education, allowing lawyers, academics, and other researchers to understand legal concepts, source documents, and precedents in any language.

Legal Translation in Business

Business heavily depends on contracts and written agreements, and legal translation often becomes necessary for navigating these situations. Businesses operating internationally or close to borders know the importance of translation—especially if they’ve previously gotten it wrong. For example, companies seeking to expand their reach into international markets might rely on legal translations to navigate local regulations, translate marketing materials, and ensure compliance.

Still, domestic businesses shouldn’t disregard legal translation’s importance. The global nature of supply chains means that contracts and legalese in other languages likely exist on the periphery of their operations.

Cross-Border Litigation and Transactions

There are many instances of cross-border litigation and transactions where legal translation might be required. In a survey of 200 companies across the US and Europe, 38% said they were involved in cross-border litigation during a two-year period.1 Relevant translations might span discovery procedures, contracts, and documents related to proceedings. 

Compliance with International Legal Standards

Another reason why legal translation is important? It adheres to specific legal frameworks and regulations. For example, your legal translation partner should have familiarity with international law, industries, and regulations to ensure your documents comply with all appropriate legal standards.

Certain purposes will require the translator or the translation to carry the relevant certification, or it may otherwise be invalidated. 

Consequences of Inaccurate Legal Translation

Unfortunately, the consequences of inaccurate legal translation can be severe and far-reaching.  For example, inaccurate translations can lead to misunderstandings about rights and obligations or misinterpretation of key terms and conditions in contracts. Also, inaccuracies in legal documents can lead to non-compliance issues. 

Keep in mind that mistakes in legal translations can require costly and prompt revisions, which can impact timelines and budgets. In one widely publicized case, a free trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea ran into trouble when translation mistakes led to months of delay and outcry from affected groups, including farmers.2

In another case involving Argentinian soccer club player Bryan Cabeza, a translation error led to a contract being written with the wrong name (translating his last name “Cabeza” to the word “head” in the contract). Although this serves as a more amusing example, it’s doubtful the player and personnel involved were laughing when the contract was voided.3

Best Practices for Effective Legal Translation

Given the high stakes involved, effective legal translation is essential. With that in mind, here are some best practices to consider:

  • Hire qualified translators Don’t settle for generic translators. Instead, choose a specialized translator who’s experienced in legal translation and carries all necessary certifications. Without this expertise, the integrity of the legal proceedings could be compromised. When it comes to language services in the legal field, accuracy and reliability are non-negotiable.
  • Opt for subject matter expertise Choose translators with a strong understanding of the legal field relevant to your documents. As touched on above, the specific context, intent, and relevant legal structures carry significant weight regarding translation accuracy and validity. Legal translators are experts in law and translation—not one or the other.
  • Ensure efficient delivery Make sure your legal translation is completed with speed and accuracy—at a price point that makes sense.

Leveraging AI in Legal Translation

In many cases, you may opt for a legal translation service that leverages artificial intelligence (AI). What are the benefits of AI in legal translation? These translations are excellent for shortening timelines and reducing costs on large documents or high-volume business matters.

However, ensure that a translator is reviewing the work before it becomes entered or released as an official document. AI and machine translation can be counted on for high levels of accuracy, but certified translations will need to be reviewed by human translation professionals. 

Trust Your Legal Translator

Legal translation provides a critical bridge between languages and legal systems. It ensures all parties are fairly represented, and that the law is being upheld. Investing in accurate legal translation helps foster fair, effective, and compliant legal processes. 

If you’re looking for fast, accurate, and cost-effective legal document translation, U.S. Legal Support is here for you. We deliver highly accurate translations that carry all necessary certifications for a given document. We can also use AI to produce fast and accurate translations at scale.

Contact us today to get started.

Sources:

  1. Statista. Percentage of companies involved in cross-border litigation. https://www.statista.com/statistics/997586/cross-border-litigation-regions-europe-united-states/ 
  2. Reuters. Lost in translation: more FTA embarrassment. https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL3E7FS0D0/ 
  3. Football Italia. Cabezas move lost in translation. https://football-italia.net/cabezas-move-lost-in-translation/ 
  4. Guardian. Lost in AI translation: growing reliance on language apps jeopardizes some asylum applications. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/sep/07/asylum-seekers-ai-translation-apps 
Julie Feller
Julie Feller
Julie Feller is the Head of Marketing at U.S. Legal Support. Prior to U.S. Legal Support, Julie worked at Abacus Data Systems (now Caret Legal) providing legal technology platforms and services to legal professionals across the country.

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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.