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Legal translations – what makes them different and how to ensure that they are accurate?

Legal translations

The legal sector has its own language, and understanding it is often difficult even in one’s own mother tongue. In legal translations, the relevant terminology must be understood and accurately presented within the right context all the while taking into consideration the specific legal system of the region in question. We explain the particular characteristics of specialised translations in the legal field and how the resulting challenges can be handled. 

A legal translation is possible for all specialised juristic texts and – in particular when it comes to international law – should really be carried out as soon as the source text is drafted. In concrete terms, this means that not only typical legal content such as legislative texts, contracts or judicial rulings can be translated, but also protocols and data privacy statements, for example. There is a wide variety of legal texts requiring translation, and the demand for such translations is growing steadily as a result of globalisation. This is confirmed by the latest developments in the translation industry.

What is so fascinating about legal language – as in all the other social sciences – is that the concepts only come into being through language. In other words, they are constructs of thought. It is also true that every country has its own legal system and consequently its own legal language. For specialised legal translations, this means that all of these technical terms must be used absolutely correctly. Furthermore, in addition to the legal jargon, a translator must also make sure that the structure of the source text as well as any legal formalities are replicated in the translation. A structured and methodical approach is crucial to success since the complexity of the translation increases depending on the number of legal systems or legal jurisdictions covered by the source text.

Unlike literary translations, for example, there is no scope for creativity when reproducing the content in legal translations. A translation error has the potential to be catastrophic, e.g. in a worst-case scenario when the client of the language services provider is forced to face legal action or pay other damages as a result.

Customers ordering translations for the legal sector often need the translations particularly quickly. However, does it make sense to resort to machine translations for these rush jobs? Even though it may sound tempting, you should never rely solely on machine-generated translations. There are frequent cases of source-text content being translated incorrectly, which can lead to problems for the customer. Data security represents another potential issue in this context. It cannot be guaranteed when using public translation platforms, as the texts are temporarily stored on external servers. A compromise can be reached by combining the work performed by neural machine translation and that of a human language expert.

In summary

A professional legal translation requires a language expert who not only has flawless language skills in the field of law, but also possesses extensive legal knowledge. True mastery of legal language is complex. There is far more to it than simply using specialised terminology in the translation. Legal formalities must also be taken into account, and an understanding of foreign legal systems is a prerequisite. Even though the use of machine translations may seem tempting in the legal field due to rush jobs or voluminous projects, you should avoid them if at all possible. In some cases, it makes sense to combine a neural machine translation with the skills of an experienced translator or linguist.

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