Legal translation is arguably the most difficult type of translation. The difficulty arises not merely due to differences in terminology but the different legal systems prevalent in the world.
The civil law system is used within most of Europe, Latin America, and the countries of the former Soviet Union. In contrast, the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia have a common law legal system.
Ideally the people entrusted with legal translation should be qualified lawyers in one or both legal jurisdictions, on top of having the regular translation certifications. This skillset is so rare that we treat our legal translators like royals.
Even for people with many years of experience and expertise in multiple fields, legal translation remains a difficult job.
To make things a little easier in the new year, we asked our team to suggest a useable checklist. Here what they have produced.
7 Useful tips for Legal Translators:
- Is the format correct? Go through numbers, addresses, prices, and dates to make sure they are in the correct format. For instance, 10.1 (ten point one) is 10,1 (ten comma one) in Spanish, French, and Russian. The Chinese prefer YYYY-MM-DD compared to MM-DD-YYYY in the United States. Managing currencies and weights can be particularly tricky. Turn on your mistake-detector.
- Do the numbers add up? The custom is to write out the numbers verbally (one hundred and twenty-two) in translation if they are written verbally in the original, and vice versa. Check all the numbers one at a time.
- Are are parties name correctly? Stick to the names used in the original throughout the document. Don’t change Lessor and Lessee to Tenant and Landlord.
- Are there any typos? Even the best of us are more likely to make mistakes when we are tired or overworked. An innocuous typo can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Check out for missing or extra negations.
- Is the writing legible? Read every sentence backwards and make sure it makes sense, especially if the original is clear and correct. Ambiguity in a legal text can have serious ramifications.
- Does grammar make sense? The language used in legal texts is rich in formulaic expressions rarely used in everyday speech. It also makes use of subjunctives, conjunctives, conditionals, and other grammatical structures infrequently used in colloquial writing. Pay attention to the grammar you have used to ensure it’s correct.
- If the translated text meaningful? Break all of the above rules if they get in the way of meaning. Translators strive to not alter the meaning, especially in the field of law. If you encounter a particularly troublesome text, team up but don’t let the meaning change.
Hope this advice helps.
Before we leave: This advice shouldn’t be confused with legal counsel.