Considering their significance to all forms of business, as well as their importance to major life events, it’s essential that legal documentation can be comprehended by everyone who has access to them. And when the parties involved speak different languages, legal translation becomes imperative for ensuring that documents like witness statements, contracts and patents are understood. Any confusion can have serious consequences, with the stakes often a lot higher than any other types of content.
Inaccurate legal translations could change the original meaning of a court judgment and lead to a miscarriage of justice, or alter the terms of a business contract and lead to costly disputes, as was the case in 2011 when two maritime companies clashed. In this instance, an inaccurately translated contract from English to Chinese between a Chinese company and a foreign partner caused confusion surrounding the Chinese party’s rights, with the case eventually ending up in the Shanghai Maritime Court.
But like any language service, legal translation from a professional translation agency will be an additional expense on top of the legal proceedings themselves, leading some companies and individuals to instead rely on free automated translators in order to save money. However, using AI and other machine translation tools is a lot less effective at translating legal documents than experienced human translators, and can make consequential errors that prove professional legal translation costs to be more than worth it.
The risks of free translations for legal documents
A legal translator needs to possess both linguistic and technical aptitudes in order to successfully translate legal documents. While all sector-specific translators require a level of relevant industry insight, its importance is magnified manifold for legal linguists. This is because legal concepts are notoriously complicated, often exacerbated by the vast, intricate lexicon of specific terminology, and the hugely different legal concepts which exist between different nations. With laws typically devised in line with a nation’s cultural attitudes, there is sometimes no equivalent way to describe one country’s particular legal concept in another language. This means that translators must be able to produce an analogous way to describe it without losing the original meaning, something that requires impeccable legal and linguistic expertise.
So, while machines are becoming increasingly powerful, they aren’t sophisticated enough to factor in the legal knowledge required to properly translate legal documents. Without this technical insight, they will be unable to fill in the context when there isn’t a word or concept in the second language that accurately describes what is being said in the source text. Furthermore, companies who offer free legal translation tools will usually store any text you input on their own servers, which runs the risk of confidential data getting into the wrong hands.
How are legal translation costs calculated?
Professional legal translation fees are determined by a number of factors, primarily the length of the legal text in question (in words or characters), and the languages involved. The rarer the language combination, the more the translation will cost — for instance, a translation from Bulgarian to Korean will be more expensive than one from English to French. This is because language agencies will naturally have fewer linguists available for this combination.
Generally speaking, legal translations are more expensive than language services in other sectors, and for alternative types of documents — like a brochure or advertising copy, for instance — due to the specific and technical nature of the terminology used in legal texts. Experts naturally command a premium for their services, which is why a translation of a complex contract will cost more than a basic translation of a restaurant menu, for example.
Why it’s essential to choose a professional translation agency