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Translating Foreign Legal Documents: What to Remember

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 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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  • It is imperative that the team of linguists who handles the translation specialize in legal translation. Working with a non-legal translation team can seriously impact your credibility (and have possible legal ramifications) if the translated document is not found to be completely accurate and true to the original.
     
  • If the language pair you’re translating 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 is vital. Otherwise, they will have to make their best guess of how to portray it phonetically. If text is difficult to decipher on the scanned copy, supply that text as well. If it is not provided, the translation team will write “[illegible]” instead of trying to make a best guess. Signatures and stamps/seals are sometimes not translated unless requested, but will include “[signature]” and “[stamp]” or “[seal]” where appropriate as well.
     
  • Determine whether or not you need a sworn translator to complete the work or if a letter certifying the translation will be sufficient. Sworn translators have been certified by their country to execute a sworn translated document that is legally valid and binding in his or her 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.

    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 trial, such as evidence and transcripts, can often just be accompanied by such a statement.
     
  • Depending on the country it will be presented in or the judge requesting the document, you may also need to have the translated documented notarized or bear an apostille. An apostille will be issued by the embassy of a country that has signed the Hague Apostille Convention and is usually signed by an embassy official. Please let the agency know if an apostille or notarization is necessary for your particular document or case so that they can ensure these steps are handled on your behalf. You will also want to factor in the extra time it will take to get the notarization and apostille, as typically you must have the original translated document in hard copy to show the original seals and stamps necessary.

Since taking the appropriate steps for your translated document can make a difference in its validity in the courtroom or in other legal settings, it is important to make sure to handle them correctly. Be sure to use a professional agency or translation team and always ask any questions you may have along the way.