The Challenges of Legal Translation – and How to Overcome Them

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The Challenges of Legal Translation – and How to Overcome Them

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Tips on choosing translators and interpreters for seamless case flow

Two years ago, a highly publicized case hinged on an Oxford comma – and ended up costing the defendant in the case $5 million. In legal disputes that involve multiple languages, accurate, professional legal translation is even more important: without it, a case can fall apart, and justice may not have a chance to prevail.

It seems logical that translator and interpreter services are in integral part of immigration matters, but the scope of the work of a professional translation agency is much more than that. Court interpreting can include American Sign Language interpreting; witnesses may be native speakers of other languages; in corporate matters, US companies may be doing business abroad, or working on deals in or with other countries. In either case, it is the translator’s job to ensure that document translation is nothing short of perfect.

The Dangers of Litigation Fails

There is precedent of using machine translation, which in once case resulted in a dismissal of charges, with the judge finding consent obtained with the online translation tool to be questionable and thus the search illegal. A few studies have found that the judicial system sometimes settles for translation services that are good enough, rather than exact, accurate and culturally appropriate. Good translation companies strive to change that, equalizing access to the legal system for speakers of all languages. 

All over the globe, proper translation is key to achieving the optimal resolution in court. In Malaysia, for example, a court battle has played out over the translation of a will left by a real estate magnate that will determine the fate of an estate worth more than RM 300 million, or almost $60 million. 

What should law firms and the judicial agencies consider when choosing translators for their case?

Pick an agency over an individual

While individual translators can be great to work with, when it comes to international business or international litigation, continuity is important. A single translator – even if it’s a court certified translator — may become ill or face circumstances preventing them from working on a matter; a translating agency will be able to ensure the work process is uninterrupted and smooth. A certified translation company such as Bilingva can also handle multiple cases and meet a law firm’s needs in many languages.

Form the relationship early on

In litigation, the case begins long before it sees a courtroom. By finding the right translation agency early on, you ensure that you are satisfied with the quality of translation – as well as with the timely delivery of services — well before you are in front of a judge. Your translators and court interpreters should be experienced, and the translating company responsive and reliable. 

The bottom line

The difference between a skillful translation and a mediocre one can, at its worst, mean a dismissal or loss. After all, if a comma can affect the outcome of a case, imagine how the wrongly attributed meaning of words can alter its course. Put in the wrong hands, translation can be a waste of effort, time and money.

If you are in need of accurate translations of sensitive documentation such as contracts, court records, statements, legal agreements, notices, please contact our legal translation team at