What should a law firm keep in mind when seeking, hiring and working with a professional translator?
Thread poster: Zoya Bozhko

Zoya Bozhko
Russian to English
Mar 22, 2013

Hello:

I am looking into best practices for law firms when dealing with language barriers in international disputes. To that end, I thought I would poll the experts - all of YOU - on some of the things you know a law firm should think about when:

1. evaluating whether or not to hire a translator?
2. deciding whether to out-source translation projects or hire a temporary/in-house translator?
3. looking over translators' resumes?
4. establishing a working relationship with a translator?
5. considering best practices for feedback, review, deadlines, communication?

Any and all opinions are welcome. Thank you in advance!


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:59
Russian to English
+ ...
Hi. The most important facts, in my opinion, are Mar 22, 2013

Trying to find a translator with the top fluency in both languages, familiar with legal language -- not just the legal terms -- in both languages and legal systems of the countries were the languages are spoken. Somebody who has some college education in the legal field might be perfect, paralegal studies at least, or years of practice, working for a law firm.

The rest is just of minor importance.

The above information will apply just to seeking. Now hiring. The law firm should rather pay the right rate to a qualified translator, than try to save five cents, and end up having to redo the whole project, getting into legal problems, or as a consequence, losing the case.

When working with a professional translator the firm has to be always fair, pay on time, and not to set too short deadlines, which are really bad for the quality of translation. An overworked translator cannot produce what he is expected to produce. There are certain limits that cannot be surpassed.







[Edited at 2013-03-22 20:37 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-03-22 20:38 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-03-22 20:40 GMT]


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:59
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
My take Mar 22, 2013

1. evaluating whether or not to hire a translator?
2. deciding whether to out-source translation projects or hire a temporary/in-house translator?

A good translator can produce something like 2,500 words a day, so if you don't have this much to be translated, you'll be wasting your money. NB: that quantity would have to all be in the language combinations the translator has on their CV. If you have that much to be translated but into several different languages, you'll need several different translators!

You need excellent translators with legal knowledge. Not necessarily bilingual lawyers, but at least some sort of legal training, enough to know where to look for answers at least. If you can't find one who's willing to work in-house, then it's best to find two or three good free-lancers.

3. looking over translators' resumes?

I would look to see how the translator acquired their languages: living abroad and/or studying, and I would look for some sort of legal experience: either law studies or working as a para-legal. And if you're not able to spend a fair amount of time holding their hand, it's better to hire someone with at least some experience.

4. establishing a working relationship with a translator?

Give them a realistic vision of the kind of work you would be giving them, and pay them well, because if they are good, they deserve it. If they are not good, you find someone else. Legal translation is not a field where you can afford too many mistakes

5. considering best practices for feedback, review, deadlines, communication?

For deadlines, I would say that anyone likely to need a translation should be aware of the translator's average output and must factor their availability in when planning. Otherwise you might find yourself having to find someone else at the last minute, and that someone else might not use the same terminology, leading to confusion, or might quite simply be rubbish.

Feedback and review: don't just talk to the translator when there's a problem. You can tell them they've done a good job when it's true. If there are terms you prefer, let them know beforehand rather than laying in to them afterwards, they can't necessarily guess which are your favourites. If you have to criticise a translation, point out specific problems rather than just saying "that was rubbish" (if you're not specific, the translator will simply think you're trying to browbeat them into reducing their rate, and will simply refuse to listen any more).


 

The Misha
Local time: 15:59
Russian to English
+ ...
In real life law firms do not hire translators Mar 23, 2013

Not as a general rule, and not US/UK law firms anyway. They hire bilingual attorneys or outsource to agencies whenever stuff needs to be translated. This is also more or less a general trend in other industries. That's why there's so few in house jobs out there.

 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:59
Russian to English
+ ...
In the US they do, if they have a lot of work in particular language pairs Mar 23, 2013

but you also have to do regular paralegal work in English only -- this is what is expected. There is usually not enough translation work in most law firms, so you are expected , after some additional courses, and training, to draft pleadings, contracts, and other documents.

 

Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
In-house legal translators Mar 23, 2013

Big law firms in Spain hire in-house translators. I don't think that they are too fussy, they look for someone with some legal translating experience. You might be set a translation text to do before they give you an interview.

 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 04:59
Chinese to English
Share models Mar 24, 2013

One thing that would be useful to me in legal translations is the sharing of model documents in both languages.

Also, be clear to the translator about what is expected of them. A legal translation is by definition not just a language exercise. It is a translation between two different legal systems.

For example, if you have a contract in English that you want to translate into an effective legal document in Chinese, then you need a Chinese lawyer. But does your Chinese lawyer want to work from a translation which follows the English contract exactly? If the Chinese lawyer is not very familiar with US law, they might not understand the translation, even if it's in perfect Chinese that reflects the English original perfectly. So the translator may need to adapt the English legal conventions to Chinese ones before the Chinese lawyer can even begin. Good legal translators can do that, but they need to be given clear instructions.

Conversely, you might want no adaptation at all, and again, instructions must be given. In that case the target document will probably sound rather awkward, and must be understood in the light of its source legal system.

The linguistic issues can never be wholly separated from the legal issues, so there has to be room for translator's notes, follow-up questions, communication between translator and client.


 

Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
The value of a law degree Mar 24, 2013

If you get a law degree behind you, I'm sure you won't have any problems of this kind and you won't need instruction either. Armed with the right studies you'll know exactly what to do with a legal translation.

 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:59
English to Polish
+ ...
Some basic tips Mar 27, 2013

Hello, Zoya. I might be able to give you some useful insights here. As a young associate in a law firm, I was a bit of a project manager and translated some texts on my own before becoming a full-time translator. I'm sensitive to issues that arise on both sides and can rely on experience from both sides of the fence. Please understand that I'll be speaking more directly than usual because I want to give you good advice that works, from experience. Let's go point by point:

1. evaluating whether or not to hire a translator?


Forget bargain hunting, focus on getting the one with the best skills, which isn't always the one with the best papers. Try to see samples of work already performed but don't disqualify a translator who doesn't have much to show: NDAs are pretty strict and sometimes we really have nothing to show for 100 hour weeks. If he can't show you a sample, test him, even if you have to pay him for it.

Try to find someone with a legal degree and preferably somewhat of a legal brain to go with it. Being qualified to practice, pursuing an advanced degree in law studies, writing law articles or showing some skill in some other ways would be best. If not, then let him at least have some verifiable, good quality schooling and experience in legal translation. In either case, still test him abundantly, even if you have to pay him for it. This costs much less than bad translations anyway.

Secondly, the translator, lawyer or not, must have a perfect command of both the source and the target language. This is more important than the typical practice of only hiring people who are native speakers of the target language no matter how bad they are at source. You just can skirt around the comprehension of the source text, no matter what people tell you, this isn't poetry. Also, you want someone who's feels comfortable in formal and old-fashioned registers. Having translated or at least read or written religious or philosophical texts is an asset.

Thirdly, he needs to be diligent, careful and meticulous. No typos, wrong words, missing negations, wrong declinations or anything of the sort. But you need him to get the dates and numbers right too. This may well be an acquired skill, so don't despair if he doesn't have it already. Just imprint the importance of it on him.

Thirdly again (ex aequo), pick someone who doesn't give in to fantasy. Conjecture is not an option. This is hard to get for many translators. As a downside, such a person might be somewhat on the literal side with a tendency to be boring. Better boring than sorry. He can let some of his creativity loose when the time comes for legal marketing translation and playing around with the lawyer bios on your website.

You may already know that not all translators are good interpreters and vice versa. He may have a horrible accent but still write perfectly. Or he may be the best court interpreter you've seen and still not quite home in the world of document translations. Split the tasks if necessary, one man doesn't need to know everything. The good news is that if he does less, he's more specialised in what he does, as long as his perspective isn't too limited because of focusing on a narrow area.

2. deciding whether to out-source translation projects or hire a temporary/in-house translator?


I would normally say find a great guy, hire him in-house and groom him to fit your needs. This includes sending him to attend some of the trainings lawyers attend, such as limited training in foreign laws that doesn't actually make your lawyers qualified to practice in a different jurisdiction but simply teaches them the basis of other legal systems. If your more experienced lawyers actually teach the interns and newbie associates classroom-style, some of that lecturing would benefit your translator and he might be able to digest it. Give him the benefit of access to your library, your law databases, your bilingual lawyers, and your connections, buy him the books he needs but can't afford. Listen when he says the deadlines are too tight to guarantee good quality. This is the route I'd take. But if you come across a really good freelancer by all means work with him. Just remember to communicate very clearly, set reasonable deadlines, and give him access to your lawyers. And make sure he understands it's better to phone your lawyers and talk about a term or phrase than to take wild guesses.

3. looking over translators' resumes?


Make sure it's all real and concrete information. Still test their skills extensively, even if it means paying them per hour or per word for it. Don't judge a book by the cover but test him doubly if his CV isn't linguistically or typographically perfect. I'd prefer my legal translator to be someone who uses the shift key and knows his spaces even on Skype. Keeps him sharp for where it matters.

4. establishing a working relationship with a translator?


Definitely. You really need to have a good understanding of the priorities and the constraints, and he must have a communication channel with your lawyers that actually works. A couple of ignorant questions are better than a couple of ignorant translations, avoid teaching him to leave your lawyers alone. If he's smart, he'll start asking more advanced questions soon enough.

As for time-frames, make sure he understands that while deadlines are important, you still need him to check his work carefully, and give him the time to do it. Provide or hire help when needed; e.g. you can always spare an assistant or paralegal or even young associate to verify the numbers, dates, corporate names, identify typos etc. or do research. Or actually translate something that your actual translator will proofread later.

If he warns you that the deadline is too tight and you still insist that the deadline must be kept (e.g. because you have no choice due to a court order) and you actually find some defects in his work, then don't blame it on him but rather understand that he had a good reason to warn you when he did. Just look how lawyers write when they need to stay at the firm until morning hours (rather badly, much of the time) and don't expect miracles to happen. This is doubly true for proofreading in my experience.

(For the record, more than 20,000 characters per day is quite tight, >50,000 for tomorrow is slave labour, which some law firms fail to understand while squeezing translation agencies for shorter deadlines and larger discounts in lieu of the traditional urgency surcharge.)

5. considering best practices for feedback, review, deadlines, communication?


Establish clear and professional communication, give him direct access to lawyers, treat him like an equal partner in discussions with the lawyers, listen to him when he talks about physical, mental or other limits, don't allow lawyers' egos to override sound linguistic reasons (proofreading their foreign language communication can be quite a problem with the more ambitious of them), make sure the lawyers understand at least some core basics of translation before allowing them to give feedback to your translator but especially negative feedback and especially on something that isn't actually their area of expertise (a veteran translator, just like a veteran secretary, may know more law than a rookie associate, and lawyers just don't tend to be as good at grammar and other aspects of language as they tend to think they are).

Respect his physical and mental limits and honour your agreements with him and accept the (potential and actual) bad consequences of your lawyers' unilateral decisions, above all when you asked the translator to take a risk for you, as long as he wasn't dishonest with you. If you told him to keep translating or proofing after he told you he's too tired to guarantee 100% error-freedom and your lawyers okayed it and he relied on their assurance, then the risk's on you as the firm (or at least the lawyer responsible), not on the translator. If you allowed a lawyer to override a translator on a linguistic matter and it backfired, then it's the lawyer to blame, not the translator (for example for failing to argue more forcefully against an intimidating senior litigation partner... yeah). Keep the ambitious foreign language learners among your lawyers and administrative staff from going too far in their natural desire to compete with your actual translator. (But listen to them when they are prepared to prove some real, objective errors with consequences.)

In case I failed to convey this idea clearly enough already, make sure that any review is professional, which means it's translation-professional, not law-professional or admin-professional, just like you wouldn't like dentists, accountants or opera singers giving your lawyers their quarterly assessment for their lawyering. Just like grading essays at school, evaluating a translator takes more than the red pen and some knowledge of the languages involved. A one-sided, e.g. lawyer-sided (this includes senior-partner-sided) review may well be worthless and frustrating rather than productive. Among the many things lawyers and translators have in common, one is particularly notable: both tend to be misunderstood by DIY clients and outspoken laymen. Everybody is a lawyer, they say. Everybody is a translator too.icon_smile.gif

Note: If you need some objective information about good practices or especially the existence and gravity of any alleged errors, you may want to consult a local association of translators or a similar association in the foreign language country (because practicing translators aren't always impeccable in their foreign language or particularly well-versed in legal translation).


 


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:


You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

What should a law firm keep in mind when seeking, hiring and working with a professional translator?

Advanced search







Protemos translation business management system
Create your account in minutes, and start working! 3-month trial for agencies, and free for freelancers!

The system lets you keep client/vendor database, with contacts and rates, manage projects and assign jobs to vendors, issue invoices, track payments, store and manage project files, generate business reports on turnover profit per client/manager etc.

More info »
Wordfast Pro
Translation Memory Software for Any Platform

Exclusive discount for ProZ.com users! Save over 13% when purchasing Wordfast Pro through ProZ.com. Wordfast is the world's #1 provider of platform-independent Translation Memory software. Consistently ranked the most user-friendly and highest value

More info »



Forums
  • All of ProZ.com
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search