Vidula Tokekar

Director | TranslationPanacea

More about her here


Translation of Legal Content: Diligence and Deadlines

Agreements, wills, court rulings, MoUs and other legal content are peculiar for translators due to their distinct features. When approached properly and methodically, the content can be translated well and serves the purpose.

Translators often come across variety of legal documents for translation.  It can be a First Information Report (FIR), minutes of meetings, Government registrations, notifications, court rulings, legal correspondence between parties, appeals, charters of demands, MoUs and agreements, wills, patents and others.  For this article, we are considering only written content. 

Let’s see what makes translation of legal content so special.

  • Commissioned by law firms or either party of the subject matter, with good knowledge of law, a specific purpose and timeline for translation.
  • Complex and crisp language, typical expressions or clauses.
  • Users of translation are well conversant with the typical legal language, long complex sentences.
  • Tight timelines
  • High stake content – involving not just money, but also reputation, relationship, inheritance, rights, even life.
  • Besides correct translation, presentation of translation is also important.
  • Often a certificate is asked from the translator about the accuracy of translation.

These characteristics make the translation process very interesting. As some elements are common for translation of any content, let’s focus here on those elements peculiar to this genre.

  • Understand – Correct comprehension of the subject matter and the content of the given document is utmost important.  One should read and understand the document first and then start the actual translation.  Chronology of events, parties and their relations, subject of the document, purpose of translation and timelines of delivery have to be very clear before one starts the translation.
  • Tools of translation – As there are repetitive and common terms and clauses in many legal documents, CAT tools help a lot for speed and consistency in the translation. Creating own glossary of terms and translation memory also helps a lot. Where laws of two different lands are involved, the translator may have to confirm the meaning of some terms or expressions. Checking and confirming it online is advisable in such cases.  There are a number of legal terms dictionaries available online and offline for various language pairs.  One should remember that for some clauses, there is an equivalent term already available and used in the target language, and translation of those words may not serve the purpose.  The existing equivalent term or phrase should be used.
  • Formatting – The translated document must look like the original document.  Apart from the most obvious elements like margins and spacing;  header/footer, citations, various stamps on the page, stationary (letterhead, emblem etc.) also form the visual references.  These should be present in the translation at the appropriate places. Creating your own formats for various government forms, certificates is a good idea to save time.
  • Certification – The client relies completely on the translator for translated legal documents. It is often expected from the translator to certify the correctness of the translation and/or own the responsibility of translation by putting a stamp and signature on the translation.

With due care and understanding of legal terms, translation of legal content can be smooth and to the satisfaction of the client.