legal translation

How to get legal translation and interpretation right every time

Legal translation and interpretation are specialist services that require exceptional attention to detail, sound legal knowledge and impressive linguistic skills. There is no room for legal translators or legal interpreters to have a ‘bad day’ at the office, as a mistake in their work could have serious ramifications. Equally, businesses that are in need of such services need to ensure that they make the right choice over who is going to provide their legal interpretation and translation. This post looks at how they can do just that.

Legal translation and interpretation services: key facts

What is the difference between translation and interpretation? If you need to convert one language to another, you’ll need a translator or an interpreter. Translation is the conversion of written language, while interpretation deals with the conversion of spoken language.

Within the translation definition, there are various different kinds of language conversion service. Legal translation is one such service, but there is also marketing translation, website translation, financial translation and more.

Interpretation also provides various different options. What are the types of interpretation? The two main types are simultaneous interpretation and consecutive interpretation. Simultaneous interpretation is the kind used at conferences, where the interpreter speaks at the same time as the presenter (hence the name!). Consecutive interpretation is where the speaker pauses every sentence or two for the interpreter to translate their words.

Globally, the language services industry is big business. In the US alone, total revenue for translation and interpretation services stood at $4,739 million in 2018. Legal translation services form a core part of this industry.

Professional translators and professional interpreters who specialise in legal work must be highly skilled in order to provide flawless translation services and interpretation services. Businesses looking to hire suitably qualified and experienced individuals should seek out certified linguists and those with exceptional reputations. How do you know if a translator is certified? Simply ask to see their certification!

Types of legal translation

Legal translation and legal interpretation don’t solely relate to translation for the courts, although these services are certainly essential when it comes to ensuring that every individual receives a fair trial.

Other kinds of legal translation can relate to anything from employment contracts to heads of terms for companies looking to work together. Broadly speaking, if a document would benefit from a lawyer creating or reviewing it in the original language, then a specialist legal translator should be used in order to deliver that document in another tongue.

Legal interpretation can also meet a wide range of needs. Companies seeking to expand overseas will often need to connect with those who speak a different language, from investors to suppliers to manufacturers. When discussions deepen and legal agreements start being discussed, it’s essential to use legal interpreters who can ensure that every nuance of the conversation is correctly translated.

How to get legal translation and legal interpretation right

There are several best practices that businesses can employ to ensure that they get their legal translation and interpretation needs met in the right way.

Firstly, it’s essential to use a specialist legal linguist, rather than a more general translator or interpreter. Not only that, but it’s important to seek out a professional with expertise that is relevant to the task at hand. If the task at hand is to translate a contract, for example, then a translator with business legal contract experience is better suited to the task than one who specialises in, say, adoption paperwork.

Also key is using a native speaker of the target language, rather than the source language. This usually results in a better standard of translation and interpretation.

If the business plans to use an agency rather than a freelance translator, it’s helpful to seek out a translation agency with an established reputation for specialising in legal services specifically. Opting for a translation service that has been around for enough years to have stood the test of time is also important.

Finally, the business needs to be clear on the purpose of the translation from the outset. The more information that it can provide to the translation company, the more closely the company can match a legal translation (or legal interpretation) specialist to the job at hand.

The pitfalls of legal interpretation services

Using legal translation and legal interpretation services is not without pitfalls. It’s important to engage a fair dose of commons sense here. If a translation service seems to be vastly cheaper or promise far faster results than all others, be wary. It could be that the service is using machine translation rather than human translation, which is not appropriate for legal documentation.

Another potential pitfall is leaving the appointment of a translation company to the last minute. While rush translation services are widely available, it’s better to find and appoint a legal translation specialist with enough time to plan for contingencies. Planning ahead is also essential when using legal interpretation services, particularly if the interpreter needs to be physically present, rather than providing video interpretation or over the phone interpretation services.

Having a keen awareness of all the best practices and pitfalls of legal translation and legal interpretation should help businesses to get it right first time. However, that’s not always the case, as the criminal court statistics from the UK’s Ministry of Justice highlight. The January to March 2018 quarterly statistics, for example, show a success rate for completed language interpreter and translation service requests of 97%. That means that 3% were not completed successfully.

In some cases, unsuccessful legal translation and interpretation can lead to little more than an administrative headache. However, there have been instances around the world of major legal disputes and even collapsed trials as a result of imperfect legal translation and interpretation services. Getting it right first time is certainly the cheaper and more efficient way to move forward with legal language needs, whether for a quick document translation or a long-term partnership that includes a range of translation and interpretation requirements.

About Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh
Ofer Tirosh is CEO of Tomedes, a translation agency specialising in providing legal translation services. Tomedes has been working with clients spread around the globe for more than a decade.

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