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What to Expect When Translating Legal Documents

Legal translation is a very complex task, and it’s one that not just anyone can take on. A translated legal document must be able to stand up in a court of law and, therefore, needs to be translated, edited, and perfected by a team of expert linguists who can make this happen. 

Here are a few things to consider about the translation process when you find you need to have a foreign legal document translated.

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Your translation provider should request certain information be provided separately if anything within the legal text is illegible or difficult to decipher

If you have provided a scanned document to your translation provider and some of the text is difficult to decipher, supply that text whenever possible. If it is not provided or remains unknown, the translation team will write “[Illegible]” instead of trying to make a best guess. If there is text within a stamp or seal that you want to make sure is included in the translation, be sure to provide that as well. Otherwise, signatures, stamps and seals are often left translated, but will be marked as “[Signature]” and “[Stamp]” or “[Seal],” where appropriate, instead. 

Also, if the language you’re you request translation into/from uses a different alphabet or series of characters, supplying your translation provider with parties’ names to ensure that they are listed correctly on the translated document can also be quite helpful. If you don’t, the team will do their best to portray it phonetically, which could potentially nullify the translated document if it turns out to not match another legal document with the same person’s name portrayed differently.

Different documents require different levels of certification or translator expertise

Determine whether your translation will require a sworn translator to complete the work or if a letter certifying the translation will be enough. Sworn translators are typically certified by their country’s government to execute a sworn translation of a document that is legally valid and binding in their country. Examples of documents that must be legally valid in a foreign country—and so, are often handled by sworn translators—are birth certificates, patents, and proofs of identity such as a driver’s license, state ID or passport, among other documents.

A certified translation, on the other hand, is accompanied by a signed statement affirming that the translation is accurate and complete to the best of the translator’s knowledge. Documents used for hearings or trials, such as evidence and transcripts, can often be accompanied by such a statement.

Depending on the country, where it will be presented or on the judge requesting the document, you may also need to have the translated document notarized or bear an apostille. An apostille is often issued by the embassy of a country that has signed the Hague Apostille Convention and is usually signed by an embassy official. Make it clear beforehand if an apostille or notarization is necessary for your document or case so that these steps can be handled on your behalf. You will also want to factor in the extra time it will take to get the notarization and/or apostille, as typically you must have the original translated document in hard copy to show the original seals and stamps necessary.

The specialized skill set of a legal translation team is vital to ensure accuracy and avoid possible legal issues

Even if you do not think you will necessarily need your translation certified, asking a bilingual friend or colleague to handle a legal translation not only risks the accuracy of the text, but can have potential legal ramifications if any of these issues affect the terms of the document they’re handling for you. The team of linguists who handles the translation must specialize in legal translation. Working with a non-legal translation team can seriously impact your credibility (and have possible legal consequences) if the translated document is found to be inaccurate or deviates from the original. 

Taking the appropriate steps to have your document translated professionally and correctly can make a difference in the translation’s validity in the courtroom or in other legal settings. As such, it is important that these translations be handled correctly. Be sure to use a professional agency or translation team, and always ask any questions you may have along the way.

Need a legal document translated or have questions about what you may need? Contact us to set up a consultation.