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Legal document translation covers translation that’s done for legal purposes. If you’re looking to translate your legal documents, then this is the service you should go for. That’s because legal document translation is a specialist area of translation, and there are unique aspects that make it different from other types of translation.


Read on to find out more on legal document translation, including what documents are classified as legal, the different legal systems in place around the world and some top tips on how to navigate the legal document translation process so you get the best result at a fair price. 


Types of legal documents that may require translation

There are many different types of legal documents, formats and translation requirements, such as certification, depending on the purpose of the translation, but the main ones are:

  • Wills and testaments
  • Witness statements
  • Contracts
  • Confidentiality agreements
  • Court transcripts
  • Laws
  • Birth certificates
  • Notarized documents
  • Bank statements
  • Patents
  • Licenses 
  • Legal disclaimers
  • Arbitration documents
  • Adoption papers


Legal document translation

Legal document translations often revolve around life-changing developments, such as executing a person’s will.


Importance of legal translation 

Legal documents should be translated extremely accurately, as the consequences of a poor legal document translation can be catastrophic. For instance, the reasons why legal documents are translated often revolve around life-changing developments, like adopting a child, or buying a house, or executing a person’s will. The world’s legal systems have their own sets of jargon and complex concepts. Therefore, it’s wisest to pick a legal translation company that has demonstrable experience translating the type of document you need.


Legal systems

Every country’s legal system is unique, the result of a complex set of factors. Despite this variation there are clear categories for the world’s various legal systems. They fall into common law; civil law; customary law; religious law, and mixed systems featuring legal pluralism.


The two commonest systems are common law and civil law, the latter predominant in countries that were British colonies, like Hong Kong and Singapore. Civil law is the commonest system. Rather than being based on the precedent of previous judgments, as with common law, civil law is based on laws written by the government. Hong Kong and mainland China operate different systems, for example.


If you’re translating a document for use in different jurisdictions, this is an important consideration to keep in mind. 


certified legal translator in hong kong

Despite their proximity, Hong Kong and mainland China operate on different systems of civil law.


Certified translations

There is an idea circulating that legal translators need to be sworn in or certified to work on legal documents, but this isn’t the case in many common law jurisdictions. However, this concept of a sworn translator does exist in countries that operate a civil law system, like Spain, for example. 


However, legal translations often need to be certified, especially certified translations, notarized translations, or apostille authenticated translations. With apostille translations a stamp is put on the document as proof of its genuineness. Many countries require these types of translations for legal processes such as proving marriage status when applying for a visa. 


The certification process is straightforward: 

1: Check what type of certification you need

2: Find an expert translation agency

3: Get a quote including details on the turnaround time

4: Accept / decline the quote

5: Submit document for certified translation


Tips for translating legal documents


Seek advice from legal professionals such as solicitors, lawyers or barristers when needed

These experts will be able to advise you whether you need a certified translation or whether there are special formatting requirements for your type of documents. This advice will prevent you from making an expensive mistake. 


Be clear about how and where the translation will be used

As there are various types of documents, not to mention legal systems as well as myriad uses for translating documents, the best approach is to be absolutely clear with the translator as to why you want to have the document processed. A certified legal translator will know how to proceed. This advice includes what language pairs should be used, for example, Chinese to Japanese translation. 


Go with the professionals 

Your old classmate may be good at translating newspaper articles or the odd email, but would not be capable of translating a legal document to the degree of accuracy necessary. Look for a professional agency that is used to dealing with these types of documents. 


Master the art of search

Getting to grips with search engine keywords is helpful when looking for a potential translation partner. Use different combinations of keywords relating to the topic you are searching for. For example try “legal translation company” and “legal document translation services near me”, or “legal translation services” or “legal document translation” to get a wider array of results and find the top translation vendors. 


Master the art of search for legal translation

Master the art of search engine keywords when looking for your potential translation partner.


Master Bates numbering

Make sure the translation agency understands how to maintain Bates numbering. Translation tends to expand or contract the length of the source document so the agency needs to take this into consideration and plan appropriately.


Pitfalls to avoid


Don’t use a cheap inexperienced translator

The legal world is one brimming with specializations, like contract law, litigation, family law, criminal law, and constitutional law, to name just a few. Using a cheaper, less experienced translation agency could work out, but the risk is much higher that a mistake would cost you dear. Look for a translator that has experience in the field relating to your document, and take a look at what previous clients have said about the quality of both the legal translation services and customer services. If there’s a lot of poor feedback online, then that’s a big red flag. 


Don’t use an online translator

While it’s true that machine translators have come on leaps and bounds in terms of accuracy over the past few years, they simply aren’t up to the job of translating legal documents. These types of document are far too important to put through a machine that doesn’t understand the nuances and complexities of the legal system. 


Avoid tight timeframes if possible

High-quality translation takes time. Even if the translator is highly experienced and efficient, the nature of these types of documents means they can take a bit longer. For instance, the review process is more stringent, and if you require a certified document, this process can take extra time compared to a straightforward translation of say an email.  


How to pick a translation agency for your legal document

Not all legal translation services are made equal. But how do you pick the one that is best-suited to your unique needs and circumstances? 


  • Ask your legal professional for a recommendation
  • Make sure to conduct due diligence on potential translation partners
  • If you need a certified translation, check the agency provides this service
  • Look for indicators of good customer service


With the right translation partner at your side, translating your legal documents will be a straightforward process. 


To find out more about legal document translation services, get in touch with Into23’s team of highly experienced experts today.