About legal translation in a nutshell
Copyright © ProZ.com, 1999-2016. All rights reserved.
Talking about legal translations, the most important question is your language pair. (In my case it would be mostly English or German to Hungarian.) Although I have a degree in law which I got in Hungary, whenever I make a translation of a legal text, I also face the difficulties I am going to write about.
Every time you are doing a legal translation, you have to take into account that your are mediating between two different legal systems. The extent of the difference between those systems can be quite various.
While the Continental legal system was built up upon the Roman and Canon law, the Anglo-Saxon world has a totally different tradition.
You do not just have to be aware of the actual regulation, of the current legal system, but you may also need to know the history of the law so that you can fully understand the given text you are trying to transfer into your target language.
In some cases your task could be unbelievably easy when you have to translate a document of a system that has something in common with that of your country.
If, for example, the model of the legal system of your target language’s country was that of the source language’s country, then it’s almost a cake-walk to transfer the source document to a very similar one in the target language.
In a case like that you have to deal with similar ideas, similar legal institutions and you can hardly find any expression, or word that could hold you up. It does not mean of course, that in this case you could do the translation like an automat, but it means that you can do it without strain.
The biggest challenge is, when you need to translate a legal term about a legal entity/idea that does not exist in the target language, so you should use all your creativity to scuffle through the task. When you are looking for an adequate term in the target language, be careful not to choose a term, that already exists and used for a quite different institution/idea, so that you can avoid any mistranslation and that way any misunderstanding and maybe also an enormous financial damage.
Though in most cases you can rely on the fact that your translation will be proofread and this way every mistake you made in the translation will be noticed and corrected, you cannot shift the responsibility for your own job!
Do not forget, please, that every single misunderstanding and/or mistranslation in a legal document can potentially lead to heavy financial damage!
You have to work with due diligence and never ever forget to pay attention to the details. I do not want to say that legal translation is the pinnacle of this profession, but I should say that in this field precise work is of the greatest importance.
The exact method of the translation can vary according to the type of the text (i.e.: contract, judgement, will, certificate, etc.), but you can never neglect the knowledge of the legal background (both in the source and in the target language) in order to avoid the pitfalls in the given translation.
Moreover, I should remind you that sometimes even your legal knowledge could be slight to help you, for example, in the case of a contract where you can also face with terms of an absolutely different field when you have to translate the regulations dealing with the subject of the contract.
Should you think about legal translation without having a degree in law, your first step should be to know the basics of the legal system of the country you live in.
I wish you a lot of successful legal translation or rather a lot of well-paying clients regardless of the field you are working in!