How much is it "accepted" to charge for legal translations?
Thread poster: Raminta P.

Raminta P.
Lithuania
Local time: 16:10
Lithuanian to English
+ ...
Jul 21, 2015

Hi everyone,

First of all, I know that rates are something very individual. However, just in order to have a "general understanding", I decided to ask you for a piece of advice.

Yesterday, one translation agency contacted me and asked to translate 12 legal documents from Lithuanian into Spanish. urgently (in less than 48 hs.). These included various certificates: of registration of birth, school graduation, as well as passports. It has been a really taugh work to perform such a quantity of translations in practically 1 day's time. The rates in my country are really low, but anyway, I would not want to get paid peanuts. However, as a recent graduate in Linguistics, I'm not sure what rates I could establish.

If, for example, the agency charges its client, let's say, 20€ for my translation, would it be acceptable to ask for half the price, 10€? Although my language pair (ES->LTU) is not very common, agencies always try to pay you "cents", at least here.

Thanks in advance for your time.


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 14:10
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Am I to understand that you accepted... Jul 21, 2015

... a translation without agreeing on the rate to be paid? Have you received a PO? What does it say?

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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Legal? Jul 21, 2015

Raminta P. wrote:

Hi everyone,

First of all, I know that rates are something very individual. However, just in order to have a "general understanding", I decided to ask you for a piece of advice.

Yesterday, one translation agency contacted me and asked to translate 12 legal documents from Lithuanian into Spanish. urgently (in less than 48 hs.). These included various certificates: of registration of birth, school graduation, as well as passports. It has been a really taugh work to perform such a quantity of translations in practically 1 day's time. The rates in my country are really low, but anyway, I would not want to get paid peanuts. However, as a recent graduate in Linguistics, I'm not sure what rates I could establish.

If, for example, the agency charges its client, let's say, 20€ for my translation, would it be acceptable to ask for half the price, 10€? Although my language pair (ES->LTU) is not very common, agencies always try to pay you "cents", at least here.

Thanks in advance for your time.


Passports, birth and school graduation certificates will hardly qualify as “legal” texts. “Legal documents”, within the meaning of texts that are usually dealt with by translators who more often than not are also qualified lawyers, refer to agreements, real estate deeds, articles of incorporation, statutory instruments, court judgments or even employee handbooks. These are texts that require thorough understanding of not only both languages but also both legal systems. I am not saying birth certificates are easy. I do maintain that they are “easier” than legal documents I referred to above.

I cannot suggest you what you should charge in absolute value. What I can say is that you, I and the remainder of translators who do just that, cannot afford asking what rate we should charge. We must know our rate and clearly communicate it to our customers, when proper.

You should have your standard rate. If you charge an extra for urgent work, it should add up to your standard rate. If the document is too complex by its nature (which is not the case here, I presume), it will take you more time to deliver. Thus, a surcharge should apply.

This is not a general rule, nor is it an advice, but I, for example, never accept urgent work under pressure (unless kindly asked by a steady customer of mine, and that’s when I cannot really say just “no, thank you”). In other words, regardless of the urgency and killer deadlines, I simply look at the text and kindly inform the customer (or “to be” customer) that it will take me that much to translate. In doing so, I always take my normal speed into account, plus a modest “safety margin”, in case I get stuck with a term or two. If the customer agrees, I do the job and usually deliver it earlier than the deadline. If the customer did not agree on my timing, I know that I, at least, have saved myself a serious headache.

Our rates should have nothing to do what the agency charges the end client. You will, in effect, not know it for certain either. So, why bother?


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:10
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
10€ is not even worth the bother.... Jul 21, 2015

I hope that is at least for each document and not for all of them?

It does not matter whatsoever what THEY pay. What matters is what YOU charge.

[Edited at 2015-07-21 22:44 GMT]


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cranium
French to English
+ ...
Do you mean sworn translations? Jul 22, 2015

Raminta P. wrote:

These included various certificates: of registration of birth, school graduation, as well as passports.


To follow up on Merab's comment, I wonder if you meant "sworn translations"?

I don't know your market, but for comparison's sake, in France sworn translations must be done by court-certified translators, and they don't charge by the word but by document.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:10
Russian to English
+ ...
About $0.30/word for a rush job Jul 22, 2015

in your language pair. Don't ever work for thieves. Trying to make some unaware people work for almost nothing is stealing.

[Edited at 2015-07-22 10:15 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:10
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
The bottom line Jul 22, 2015

Translators do very many varied jobs during the day. Sometimes you'll be translating 'normal' texts - full sentences making paragraphs. But you could also be offering subtitling, voiceover and editing services, among others. Or you could be translating the type of official documents you mention.

Before worrying about your rate for each service - which could be per word, per document, per audio minute... - you should think about your needs. Do you think you should earn the same as a cleaner, as a doctor, or somewhere in-between? How much will you need to charge to maintain an appropriate lifestyle? Bear in mind that what you charge per hour cannot be multiplied by 30-40 to give an amount you'll have to spend at the end of a week. Freelancers spend time doing admin, training and marketing, taking holidays and being sick, and they spend money on taxes, social contributions, hardware and books, etc, etc.

Once you've arrived at an hourly rate, then you can set about converting it into your rate per word, per audio minute or per anything else. Of course, it has to be a rate that will enable you to find enough clients willing to pay it.

There are two tools under the appropriate tab here on ProZ.com to help you: the rate calculator and the community rates. Note that the second is a statistical analysis of rates declared by translators here. It can only be used to give a rough guide. It seems to me to suggest reasonable rates for the major pairs, but probably less so for rare ones.


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Raminta P.
Lithuania
Local time: 16:10
Lithuanian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks everyone! Jul 22, 2015

Thanks a lot for all the answers, it seems I'm really starting to get the general idea of "how it works". However, I suppose that rates depend on the country you live in, especially if you're asked to perform a translation for a local agency. Well, although I'm new in this business, I already realized that here freelancers are not "respected": if they know you're a recent graduate and do not have much experience, they feel like calling you whenever they want, for example, just to ask you "random" questions, as if you were supposed to be sitting there just waiting for a call... I am not even talking about not agreeing upon exact rates for translations. Having read all of your answers, I realized that this is a complete nonsense, and that I should completely change my attitude. I guess, many starters get "trapped" this way. Although it's something that may seem pretty obvious to a professional translator, may be confusing for a new one. So, thanks again! All of your answers have been of great help!

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 15:10
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
You have to be assertive and command respect Jul 22, 2015

It is different in different cultures, I know, but DO NOT underestimate yourself.

Instead of calling yourself 'a recent graduate with not much experience', see yourself as someone with the latest new knowledge from the university, and let them know a degree is something you have worked hard to earn. That demands respect for a start.

OK, of course you don't know it all, but none of us do. As a freelancer, your work is worth just as much to the client as anybody else's, provided it is accurate and fit for purpose. Stay within your limits and expand them gradually, but don't let anyone press your rates just because your diploma is still fresh and not yellowed with age.

Respect yourself, hold your head up and sound like a professional who knows what you are doing (as long as you do, of course). Never be afraid to get help from colleagues when you need it - that is what this site is all about, but there are other ways, as you know.

It is quite acceptable if you say 'I need to check on that, I'll get back to you' when someone asks you something. No one has all the details at their fingertips. Set realistic rates, as Sheila says. In your languages, clients cannot simply find another translator as easily as in some, so they will stay with you. Give them value for their money, and build up good relationships with them. Colleagues will respect you, and the best agencies and clients will respect you, and those are the people who count.

And the best of luck!


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 07:10
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Hourly rate or per page rate Jul 23, 2015

That kind of ('personal', not 'legal') documents often require a lot of formatting - you shouldn't just translate the words but make it look as closely as you can to the original with the right fonts, content per line, etc. The best way to charge for this is to charge your hourly rate or, once you get an idea how long these documents take on average, you could convert that to a per page rate.

Don't ever accept a job with an impossible deadline. Be firm and say I need X number of days and my fee is XX. You need to make money of course but don't let people abuse you.


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