It might not seem so, but legal documents are all around us, from birth certificates and driver’s licenses to contracts and court transcripts. Both companies and individuals have their share of dealings with legal documents throughout their lifetimes.
When it comes to legal documents in foreign languages, they’ll require translation. This is why, in this article, we’ll focus on legal document translation.
We’ll cover what it is, the various documents that need translation and their requirements. We’ll then guide you through their translation, review their cost, and cover legal translation challenges.
- What is legal document translation?
- Types of legal documents
- Official translation of legal documents
- How do I translate legal documents?
- The challenges of legal document translation
- Bonus: Machine translation in legal document translation
- How much does it cost to translate a legal document?
- Final thoughts
What is legal document translation?
Legal document translation refers to transferring the content of a legal document from one language (called “source language”) into another (called “target language”).
Qualified legal translators are typically the ones carrying out this type of translation. Legal documents not only have their own terminology; they also often contain sensitive data and a minor mistake in their translation could have dire consequences. Moreover, translators must be well-versed in the legal systems of both the source and target countries.
Types of legal documents
Here is a sample of the types of legal documents that may require translation.
- Court transcripts
- Witness testimonies
- Litigation materials
- Evidence documents
- Deposition records
- Driver’s licenses
- Birth certificates
- Divorce decrees or certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Criminal records
- Financial reports
- Financial statements
- Corporate proposals
- Terms of service
- Private policy agreements
Official translation of legal documents
An official translation is a translation that is legally valid. This generally means it has been stamped by an authority.
In the United States, the term is often used in the context of certified or notarized translations. Legal documents generally require either a certified translation or both certification and notarization. We’ll discuss what these entail next.
A certified translation is a literal or word-for-word translation of all text in a document intended for official uses. Certification is a way for the receiver of your documents to ensure that the translation is complete and accurate.
If you need to submit a document written in a foreign language before a government or educational institution in the United States, this generally requires a certified translation. This means the translator or translation agency in charge of the translation will add a signed statement (also known as a “Certificate of Translation Accuracy”). This certificate will state that the translation is a complete and accurate rendition of the original document.
You can find out more about certified translation and its requirements in this article.
A notarized translation is a certified translation that includes one more step to ensure its validity: it is signed and sealed by a Notary Public.
The Notary’s signature and stamp on a notarized translation only confirm the identity of the person whose signature has certified the translation. A notary doesn’t authenticate the original source document or certify the quality of the translation itself. Notarization is simply an additional authentication for the certified translation.
You can find out more about notarized translation and its requirements in this article.
How do I translate legal documents?
Check the translation requirements
The first step in legal document translation is checking the requirements set by the organization or institution to which you are submitting the documents. Does the translation have to be certified? Is notarization required? Is there a set deadline?
Find an appropriate translation provider
The translator or translation company you choose should have the relevant qualifications to undertake the translation. They should also be able to issue a translation that meets the requirements we’ve discussed in the previous point.
Ask for a quote and delivery time
Both the translation quote and the delivery time can vary depending on various factors. We’ll delve into pricing later in this article, but when it comes to delivery time, the main factor will be the length and complexity of your document.
Submit an electronic copy of your license
When submitting a copy of your legal documents to your translation provider, you should make sure to include both the front and the back of all pages.
You should also include your name, phone number, and email address. Finally, it’s important to mention the language of the original document (source language).
Receive your translation
Once the translation is complete, the translator or translation agency will review it for accuracy. You will then receive an electronic copy and hard copies by post if you need them.
The challenges of legal document translation
Legal texts can often be difficult to read, let alone translate. There are many challenges when translating legal documents, so finding a qualified professional for the job is particularly important. We’ll give you some examples of these challenges below.
Different legal systems
Every country has its own legal system and even types of documents. Some legal systems are similar, but some terms or concepts usually exist in one language and vary or just don’t exist in the other.
Changing legal systems
In addition to differing in general, laws and legal systems are regularly modified or amended. Therefore, legal translators must keep up to date with these changes to provide high-quality translations consistently.
Legalese is the technical language used in legal documents. This language is challenging in its own right. But there is the added difficulty of the “wooden language” found in many contracts and other documents. By “wooden,” we mean vague, ambitious, and confusing language. This is not just difficult to understand but also challenging to communicate in the target language.
It is not rare for legal terms to share their spelling with common-use words. This means one word has two possible translations in the target language. This issue might lead to false friends: words that sound or are spelled similarly in two given languages but actually have different meanings. For example, the term “sentencia” in Spanish can be translated as “sentence,” “judgment” or “decision,” depending on the context.
Bonus: Machine translation in legal document translation
Machine translation is one of the uses of artificial intelligence. Through machine translation, a text is automatically translated from one language to another.
Machine translation is an excellent tool to get a general idea of the concepts in a text or for some translation fields if paired with a revision by an experienced translator. However, machine translation still has a long way to go when it comes to legal documents.
As we’ve mentioned, legal systems and terminology vary from country to country and accuracy is paramount in this field. Moreover, if you use Google translate, you are giving Google the right to use and store the input text. As many legal documents are confidential, this poses a significant risk.
How much does it cost to translate a legal document?
The price for translation services varies depending on different factors. These include the number and length of the documents, the format, the specific language combination, if you require certification and/or notarization, and if you need the translation urgently.
Translators and agencies usually charge per word or page (one "page" equals around 250 words). Regarding cost per word, prices tend to range from $0.08 to $0.50/word. The cost per page can vary from $20 to $130.
Legal document translation has many challenges and finding the right professional to carry out the job is crucial.
We hope this article has helped you understand the translation process and the importance of checking document requirements before contacting a translator.
Updated December 15, 2022 in Translation