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4 challenges of legal translation

Published on 23/06/2020

According to a survey published in 2015 by the French national union of professional translators, over 40% of respondents are specialist translators, 18% of whom are in legal translation. 

The 4 challenges of legal translation shown below corroborate the need to specialise in this field.

1. Surgical precision

Surgical precision

The main challenge of legal translation is that it requires surgical precision. The legal translator will have to be constantly attentive to certain criteria such as technical terms and expressions, text structure or format. The target text must be faithful to the original text.

In legal translation, there are no "small mistakes". The main translation errors that usually arise are misinterpretations, false meanings, false friends, barbarism or even solecism. All of these can have serious legal consequences.

2. Equivalent but not identical content

Equivalent but not identical content

The translated content of a legal document cannot be identical to the content of the original. Each country has its own legal system and its own terminology. The legal translator must adapt his translation to avoid any error or approximation.

So, for example, when faced with a text referring to a French law and the translation of which is to be made into British English, the translator must find the English equivalent of the French law referred to in the original document. This adaptation work, also known as localization, can sometimes be a real challenge, as some laws and legislation do not always have real equivalents in the target country.

3. Variety of skills

Variety of skills

The first two challenges lead to a third challenge: the variety of skills that a legal translator must have. In addition to the multi-purpose skills inherent in professional translation in general (linguistic and cultural competence, etc.), legal translation requires the translator to be specialized in the legal field and to be familiar with the law of both the source and the target country.

The different branches of law are also specialities in their own right. Civil law, company law, financial law, international law, etc. In all these fields, it is important to choose a legal translator according to the type of document to be translated.

4. Legal translation versus standard translation

According to Spanish law, a sworn translation has legal value and can maintain that value in the target country. A sworn translation will always be carried out by a sworn translator appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, who undertakes to provide a quality translation guaranteed by his or her signature and seal.

A sworn translation is mandatory when a document is to be used in legal or administrative proceedings in the target country.

On the other hand, the standard legal translation has no legal or official value. However, it requires the same requirements as a sworn translation, especially since it concerns all those documents that will be used in the legal field or by legal professionals, such as lawyers.

This is why the various challenges make legal translation a demanding profession that requires a large number of skills and encompasses many different specialities. In order for the translated document to be valid and processed in the target country, it must be faithful to the source document, both in legal and linguistic terms. 

Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.

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