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Legal Translations

February 3, 2010

One translation myth we are eager to dispel is that any skilled translator can translate a legal document. Unfortunately, this is about as true as believing that Google Translate can provide an accurate translation. Legal translations are uniquely challenging because they require high-level understanding of specific legal terminology in both the source and target language. Depending on the legal field and the complexity of the subject matter, a legal and/or scientific background is also a must. A legal translation company must also have a thorough understanding of the comparative legal systems that the source and target texts refer to. For example, when translating a Japanese legal document into English for a lawsuit that will be tried in an American court, important issues related to jurisprudence in both countries must be understood. Finally, the legal translation company must be thoroughly experienced and adept at the legal writing style of the target language, which can be very different than the legal writing style in the source language.

If the legal document also employs ideas and terminology relating to a scientific or technical field, then a translator must also have an educational background in that field and extensive experience translating materials in that field. For example, a Chemical patent should only be translated by a legal translator who has an educational background (preferably a Master’s Degree of higher) in Chemistry and significant experience with Chemical document translation.

A legal translator must have both the technical knowledge as well as the legal knowledge to accurately perform a legal document translation. Whether the document deals with patent law, corporate law, international law, or property law, he/she should have a demonstrated mastery of the terminology in both the source and target language.