Legal Translation

American Language Services has been helping Corporate legal departments, businesses and law offices translate their legal documents for over 35 years.  In that time, we have developed a deep understanding of the nuances of the law and the exacting nature of legal documents. Working in more than 150 different languages, we are now one of the most successful legal translation experts in the world. We would like to use that expertise to make getting your legal translations a little easier, better, and more timely.

Read on for a bit of information about the landscape of legal translation and some things you can do to make it easier.

What Is Legal Translation?

Simply put, legal translation is the conversion of documents, translated for legal usage, from one language into another. In some cases, this could be translating multiple languages into another. As law varies largely by country, culture, and court jurisdiction, there are a lot of intricacies involved. What language is allowed in a secular state, for example, might be forbidden in one based on religion. Though the use of legal terminology can make things easier, it’s by no means a panacea.

That cultural variance is not the only thing that makes legal translation unique, however. As you might expect, legal writing’s exact and technical nature means that translating it requires precision. A freelance translator with no experience in the world of the law might struggle to understand why a comma is needed in a certain place or why one pronoun was used over another. Failure to take this into account can result in poor client results, missed opportunities, potential lawsuits, and other problems.

Documents that fall into the legal sector include:

  • Contracts
  • Intellectual property
  • Litigation
  • Court findings
  • Corporate legal documents
  • Discovery documents
  • Patents
  • Wills
  • Agreements
  • Employee Handbooks
  • Disclaimers
  • Treaties

 The Costs of Poor Legal Translation

Though you might save a little money, getting your legal documents translated by a cheap freelancer, this can cost you in dearly in the end. Few industries are as sensitive as law. And even a small mistake can cause irreparable damage. Below are some examples of what can happen when things go wrong:

  • Samsung Electronic vs. Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co. (SEL): In a case in Japan, SEL submitted a single page, partial translation of an important document. Their opposition, Samsung, asserted that this partial translation was not representative of the full document and represented an attempt to misdirect the court. The Federal Circuit agreed. By failing to translate all their documents, instead of what they deemed as important, SEL lost the case.
  • English to Chinese Contacts: Contract translation mistakes can lead to significant losses. In 2011, the Shanghai Maritime Court found that the quality of translations for maritime documents was lacking. For example, the term “drydocking” was often misinterpreted as “tank washing.” This led to tensions between the Chinese and foreign parties. This is just one example of many, though. It’s estimated that around 5 percent of Chinese and foreigner disputes arise from translation errors.
  • A Mistrial Declared on a Sensitive Case: In 2012, Canadian Superior Court Justice Hill declared a mistrial in a sexual assault case because of inaccurate legal translation. The judge felt that the subpar quality of the translations denied the defendant proper representation. Though this did not result in monetary damages, it did potentially deprive one woman of justice.

10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Issues with Your Legal Translations

If you do not want to end stuck with fines like Samsung or frustrating foreign legal courts, you’ll want to start looking at this below:

  1. Finalize the Original Document: Maybe you’ve edited a process or made some changes to company protocol. Alternatively, you’re looking to restructure or reorganize the original document. All of these things should be completed before you send stuff off to your legal translator. This will stop them from having to edit the documents again later. Be sure to include proofreading and final edits in this step!
  2. Certify Your Document: You should hire an agency that has the direct experience, knowledge and knows the process exactly how to translate, and then certify your legal document to ensure that it is admissible for you to use in a proceeding.
  3. Figure Out What Needs to Be Translated: Like SEL’s case shows, it’s not always a matter of what the translation says. Sometimes a lawsuit can come down to what you have and have not chosen to have translated. So, put some thought into what documents you present to a translator. To make things easier, tell them what you’re hoping to do. Most certified legal translators can then use that to build a cohesive plan.
  4. Make Sure You Have the Right Dialect: UK and American English are two different animals. The same thing holds for Brazilian and standard Portuguese. You must divulge what you need before your legal translator gets started. The more information you can give them about where and how the information will be used, the better.
  5. Be Consistent: To achieve content consistency, you’ll want to put together both a glossary of key terms and a style guide. When combined, these two items will ensure both proper terminology use and brand adherence. For the former, your translator can upload the data to their translation dictionary. This takes the guesswork out of it.
  6. Update your translator: Make Sure Your Translator’s Kept in the Loop: Did your court date change? Are you making modifications to your patent? No matter how big or small the edit, you will want to let your legal translator know. At American Language Services, we’re well aware of the tight deadlines and constant fluctuations involved in the court system. That’s why we have processes in place to ensure these requested changes are made efficiently.
  7. Verify Security: Verify your information’s secure by discussing what protocols are in place with your provider.

About American Language Services

Since our founding in 1985, we have grown into a leading language agency with close ties to many large law firms and legal organizations. We are one of the largest, most successful language service providers, not just in the U.S., but worldwide. Our language experts provide a full range of language services in over 200 languages. Most importantly, we’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

AML-Global has some of the most impressive linguistic talents in the world. These highly skilled language professionals are recruited, screened, and tested to ensure high-quality work.

Through sheer diligence, AML-Global has earned an outstanding reputation for providing cost-effective, high quality and seamless language services.

Contact us by email at  or via phone at 1-800-951-5020 for a free estimate on your legal translation.


Quick Quote