Legal translation is a specialised translation type that involves the translation of texts within the field of law. It is often required by international institutions, government offices, global companies, law firms and court registries.


What documents need legal translation?

As a rule of thumb, any documents that will be used within the legal system in a language other than the original may need legal translation, even if they are not what we would usually think of as “legal texts” (e.g. birth certificates and passports). Examples of legal documents include:

  • identity documents
  • financial documents
  • terms and conditions of business
  • contracts
  • official reports
  • transcripts
  • filed patents
  • precedents and legal rulings
  • witness statements
  • immigration documents
  • litigation papers
  • articles of incorporation
  • wills and trusts

Legal Translation

Legal Translation Challenges

Legal texts are culture-dependent: every legal system uses different legal expressions. This means that the source’s textual conventions may not correspond to conventions in the target culture.

Besides, both the source text’s legal system and the target text’s legal systems are relevant and may differ greatly from each other, but the precise correspondence of legally binding rights and duties between original and translation is crucial.

“Sworn” or “Certified” Translation

In order to be used in formal procedures, translations sometimes need to be “certified” or “sworn”. In these, the translator takes responsibility for the translation’s accuracy and certifies it with some kind of credential. The requirements for a translation to be considered as such can mean considerably different things depending on the country where the translation is to be used. In many countries, only those who have obtained a state-awarded qualification can provide this kind of translations, while the UK has more relaxed rules regarding this: a statement and the contact details of the translator tend to be enough. However, guidelines frequently stipulate that this kind of translation should be done by a member of a professional body such as the Institute of Translators and Interpreters and the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

Why do I need professional legal translation?

Only professional translators who specialise in the legal field should work on these documents, as a simple error in the translation could have ominous legal and financial implications. In-depth knowledge of both the source text’s legal system and the target text’s legal systems and text conventions is required.

A fit-for-purpose legal translation cannot be achieved with simple word-for-word translation: legal expressions in the source language may not have a specific equivalent in the target language, and yet the translator must be able to ensure that the titles, reasoning and technical terms are valid legally. Only a professional translator is in a position to judge which translation approach is most suitable for the translation at hand and draw from translation theory strategies in order to deal with its challenges.