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How to hire a legal translator

Finding someone to translate your content into another language is no easy feat, especially when you’re working with sensitive legal documents. When doing business in another country or simply when working with someone who doesn’t speak English as their main language, all relevant legal documents must be translated into their language. Not only is this often required by law, offering legal texts in more than one language is a good courtesy to extend to anyone you work with. When people are able to read contracts in their own language, they will be able to better understand its terms and conditions and be able to enter into a relationship with you built on faith and trust. Just think about it, how would you feel if someone presented you with a contract in French or some other language you didn’t know? I doubt you’d sign it, and I wouldn’t blame you. I wouldn’t sign it either.

If you have a website, offering legal documents like your privacy policy and terms and conditions in a second language is imperative. Even if your site isn’t available in a second language (though it should be), the internet is internationally accessible and therefore all legal documents on your site should be translated by hand and made available in all languages users are likely to see your website, not just in your site’s main language, to avoid costly litigation in the future.

So, in order to work with others in different languages, translating your legal paperwork is a must. But, when it comes to law, though each word may have many synonyms, cognates even, in another language, you need someone who will pick the right word to ensure the meaning stays exactly as it was intended in the original contract. Though this may seem daunting, here are some things to look for when searching for a translator to ensure your legal documents are translated perfectly!:

1. Non-Disclosure Agreements

First and foremost, you must make sure your translator is aware of their ethical duties when handling your privileged content. They must be aware that if any content is shared with anyone besides you and the people you designate, they will face legal consequences. You should always make your translator sign a non-disclosure agreement so they understand the necessity of keeping things confidential. However, be sure to ask your translator questions about their privacy policies to see if they are generally trustworthy. It also helps to ask questions about their prior work. A translator should be able to provide a list of some notable past clients but, be careful if the translator gives out too much information regarding their past work! You don’t want the intimate details of your legal proceedings to be used as an example for their future clients.

2. Specialization!

When choosing a translation firm, pick one that works with only one language pair and just a limited number of countries. While most countries have generally similar legal codes, each country has its own variations of common law. It is impossible for one person, or even one translation firm, to be well-educated in the judiciary of every country on earth. That is why you shouldn’t do business with a firm claiming to be able to translate a document into any language, anywhere in the world. Oftentimes, your translator will be someone whose only education in the legal codes of your target country came from a quick skim of a textbook. You need to find a translator who will not just translate the document like any other piece of text without understanding what each clause exactly means. A good translator will not only study the document you provide but will also be educated on the laws in both your country and your target country to provide not a literal translation, but a legal one instead. Your translator should have at least some kind of formal law degree in your target country relevant to your field so that they can translate your documents perfectly.

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3. Legal Concentration

While your translator should be comfortable working across industries, be sure to select one with a specialization in translating legal documents and a breadth of experience. There are many archaic or specific terms which may appear constantly in, say, the documents regarding the sale of a trust that would never come up in common language. Outside of a legal setting, I don’t think I’ve ever used the term ‘promissory note’ for example, even though words like this are common in many contracts. Your translator must be well versed with the proper translation of the legal words you will be using most.

4. Official Language

Most languages, while variable in common speech, have an official set of vocabulary and rules instituted by that country’s government. Your translator must be prepared to use only vocabulary recognized in the legal code of whichever country you are working with in order to avoid confusion, error, and fines in the future. In France for example, there is the ‘Académie Française’ which is the definitive authority on French language. A translator must be familiar with their dictionary and not use vocabulary outside of the scope of French legal texts. Even within the same language, the terminology and vocabulary of the relevant jurisdiction must be followed. Phrases that are common in French law may not be recognized in the courts of Belgium for example.

5. Formatting

When presenting legal documents in multiple languages, it must be easy for all parties, regardless of which language they have, to follow along and, quite literally, stay on the same page. You must make sure your translator is committed to keeping the structure of all documents provided exactly identical. A misplaced heading or subsection can have just as dire consequences as a mistranslated word when it comes to enforcing a contract. Find a translator willing to compare paper copies of the original and translated documents to ensure that, even though the amount of words may vary by language, all of the page numbers, sections, and subsections are presented the same. This will ensure maximum clarity and save you some time down the line.

6. Reliability

Even if your job is small like translating a piece of fine print for a product, this is not the time to rely on just anyone who speaks your target language or some anonymous freelancer! Texts like this, no matter how small, must be translated by a reliable professional to protect you and your business from expensive lawsuits in the future. Also, even if your project is small, it is a good practice to use this small project to establish a relationship with an experienced translator so you can understand their working style and won’t need to wonder who to call for future translation work. Find someone capable of returning documents in a timely manner, on or ahead of schedule. Just because you have plenty of time now doesn’t mean you won’t need a last-minute translator in the future so it’s good to have a reliable partner you can go to. Missed deadlines can be expensive and result in higher court fees or even denied appeals so it’s good to find someone able to work fast with enough experience to ensure no mistakes.

Should I Hire A Lawyer That Translates or A Translator That Knows Law?

At some point or another, you’ve probably asked yourself this big question. It is incredibly important that the person you hire is linguistically proficient but also is familiar with the legal codes of your target country. Who better than a lawyer who’s a native speaker of your target language to meet these requirements? Right. Well, not entirely. If you hire a lawyer who knows French, for example, very well, that’s great because you will have someone with defendable experience practicing law but puts you at risk because that person will be significantly weaker in one language whether it be English or French. Even if they are practically fluent in both languages, they may not be able to accurately translate between the two.

Translation and conversation are two very different skills.

On the other hand, if you hire a French linguist who also knows law, you run the risk of their practical legal knowledge being insufficient for your project. Overall though, I would recommend choosing a specialized linguist who knows law over a lawyer who knows French as this person will be able to translate your document correctly using their knowledge of law and has their knowledge of general vocabulary in both languages to fall back on. If you just need translations done, hire a translator who knows law. The only time you should hire a lawyer who knows linguistics is if you need a completely new legal document drawn up in your target language. But, how about a lawyer and a linguist?

Unfortunately, those are hard to come by for most language pairs. However, if you need to translate between English and French or vice versa, look no further! Sunderland Translations actually has people on staff who are 50% lawyer, 50% linguist, and 100% spectacular! Having worked with a variety of large corporations and sensitive personal matters alike, Sunderland Translations understands the importance of privacy and will handle your materials with the utmost care. They will sign a non-disclosure agreement up front if requested, no hassle necessary. Since they only work with the English-French language pair within the legal systems of only English and French speaking countries, each translator is more than prepared to work closely with you in using their years of experience to translate whatever you need. You will only work with translators who have a concentration in law and all of their translators are well versed in the official vocabulary lists of French and English as it pertains to each legal system in which they offer translation services. Sunderland Translations will triple-check all your documents ensuring the formatting stays perfect and, above all, will reliable provide expert translation services across all industries, even if you’ve got a tight deadline approaching.

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