Translating Legal Documents Like A Pro

Translating legal documents deserve special attention for a number of different reasons. They tend to feature complex vocabularies and content that needs precise translation. From a practical standpoint, legal texts require significantly more preparation work before translation. Public translators that work on legal documents need to be precise and accurate enough to guarantee without reservation that their translations preserve every detail of the original documents. Read on let’s start translating!


Our 7-Step Process For Translating Legal Documents


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As though translating legal documents (e.g marriage, birth, and death certificates, contracts, etc.) were not challenging enough, translators also have to deal with the fact that these documents are often very old and arrive for translation in poor condition. Originals may be wrinkled, damaged, amended, signed, and stamped. Photocopies are often close to illegible.


Good translators tend to tackle legal documents with similar procedures every time. The process tends to proceed through these steps:


1) File Preparation

The design team creates a digital version of the original document. This can be a multi-step process as the documents are digitized and then passed through text recognition programs to extract legible text. Structural elements, like tables and forms, are recognized and rebuilt in digital forms.


This process cannot be fully automated for most legal documents; the output of the software tools needs to be carefully inspected so that errors and omissions can be corrected and filled.


2) Pre-Editing

This is more standard proofreading that cleans up the results of scanning and text recognition. Even relatively clear documents will produce minor errors that need to be corrected before proper translation can begin.


Where an original document says “rental contract,” for example, the scanned file might read “ren1 contr2(t.” Pre-editing also involves removing any images of non-text marks – stamps, logos, signatures, and so forth – and replacing them with succinct descriptions in square brackets. Portions of the text that are truly unreadable will be replaced with [illegible]. These are typically hand-written portions of the text, smudged stamps, damaged sections of the document, and similar problems.


3) Translation

Now that the text is digitized as accurately as possible, it’s ready to be fed into a computer-aided translation tool, or CAT.


CATs are the industry standard in professional translation because they bring together texts to be translated with glossaries and terminology references specific to the languages and industries that apply to the specific documents being worked on. CATs store translations in translation memory or TM while they are being prepared.


4) Editing

The initial translation absolutely must be reviewed by a second experienced linguist to catch basic textual errors, such as grammar and spelling mistakes. Vocabulary needs to be checked very carefully with legal documents to ensure that false cognates have not altered the meaning of the text.


5) Proofreading

A third linguist reviews the translated text to catch and correct any final errors. In this editing pass, the linguist checks only the translation, without any comparison to the original text.


6) Desktop Publishing (DTP)

Once the translation is complete, the text is returned to the design department. Formatting problems are corrected here and the translated document is prepared for delivery to the client.


7) Certification

In this final step, the legal document is signed by a notary. This guarantees the fidelity and reliability of the translation; it also verifies the professional qualifications of the linguists who prepared it.




The ASAPTranslate team follows this seven-step process with every one of our legal document translation jobs. We deliver accurate, professional results fast. If you have any questions or would like to request a quote, please don’t hesitate to contact us!



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