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Legal Translation

Legal Translation

What is legal translation?

There are different modes of translation that are established depending on what they are about. Translators will therefore specialise in a particular mode of translation after getting their degree, learning the specific content, vocabulary and other distinctive features of the relevant sector. One of these modes is legal translation.

Legal translation is the translation of legal and administrative texts from public bodies or private companies.

This category encompasses a wide range of text types, including notarial acts, company statutes, decrees, laws, ministerial orders, meeting minutes and more.

Is legal translation the same as certified translation?

Legal translationNo, it’s not the same.

As mentioned in the previous section, legal translations are always translations of texts in the legal field. However, a certified translation could be a translation from any subject area, not just the legal field. What distinguishes certified translations from other translations is their legal validity in public bodies and agencies. A certified translation is an exact, legally valid reproduction of a document’s contents in another language, which has been signed and sealed by a translator certified by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (MAEC).

Legal translations can be certified, but in most cases it isn´t necessary, since the documents are often for private companies and will not be submitted to any public institution. You will need a certified translation if it is required by the relevant authority.

Legal interpreting is different from certified interpreting for the same reason. Legal interpreters are specialised in reproducing spoken language within the legal field, but unless they are also certified, their translations are not legally valid in court. In Spain, certified interpreting services are required for judicial processes involving plaintiffs, defendants or witnesses who are not fluent in Spanish. It may also be required for meetings with a notary public. This certified interpretation service requires exhaustive planning and preparation. In order to work well, the interpreter will need to have access to the content of the statements and documents involved in the process before it begins.

What is certified legal translation?

A certified legal translation is a legally valid translation of a document from the legal field that has been signed by a certified translator. If you need to submit any document to a public body or institution, the translation needs to be certified before it is considered an official document.

Why is legal translation so complicated?

Legal translation has a long-standing reputation for being extremely complicated. This is due to the following reasons:

 1. The translator must be familiar with the laws of both the source culture and the target culture

This is because they translate legal concepts, so they need to know the equivalent concepts in the law of the other country—just knowing the terminology isn’t enough. In other words, an English-Spanish translator must understand the ins and outs of both Spanish and British (or US) law.

 2. Relevant laws may not exist in the target language

This is a very common occurrence, since the laws vary considerably between countries. As a result, the translator often has to explain what the law means in a footnote and find a similar law in the target culture. Furthermore, legal concepts often vary from one country to another. The translator must bear this in mind at all times in order to avoid misunderstandings. When the concept in question does not exist in the target culture at all, the translator has to explain it, taking on the role of a legal expert.

 3. The wording and grammatical structures are different from ordinary language

Legal language is known for its complexity, a characteristic of all legal texts. As a result, the translator must be familiar with the legal style and maintain this style throughout their work.

How are laws translated?

Legal translationThe world of legal translation is one of the demanding and rewarding sectors in the translation industry. It is a highly specialised sector, which means that translators must have an in-depth understanding of comparative law. In other words, they need detailed knowledge about the laws in the countries where the languages they work with is spoken. One of the difficulties that legal translators face on a regular basis is the names of laws.

Different ways to translate laws

The greatest obstacle for legal translators lies in the fact that each country has different legislation, and this legislation can change quickly. Consequently, there are sometimes no fully equivalent laws or subjects in the target language. This issue occurs most often with laws. For example, English law is not codified. It is grounded in jurisprudence established by previous cases.

There are several options for translating the names of laws:

1. Find an equivalent law in the target culture

This option is only valid if the laws are completely equivalent. If there are any differences, this method can lead to misunderstandings.

2. Leave the law in the source language

This practice has a number of supporters. However, it only works if the client has some understanding of the source language.

3. Produce a literal translation and leave the name of the law in the source language in brackets

This way, the client will understand the law in question and know its original name allowing them to look up the contents of the law if needed. This possibility is extremely useful for legal professionals.

4. Produce a literal translation, leave the name of the law in the source language in brackets and add a translator’s note about said law

This is the ideal solution. In the translators note, the law can be compared and contrasted with any relevant law in the target culture.

5 things you need to know about legal English

All legal language has particular characteristics that are different from any other way of speaking. English is no exception.

1. It is governed by Common Law

In England, the framework that governs all legal matters is Common Law. This framework is different from the framework in Spain in that the laws derive from customs rather than statute books.

2. It is extremely formal

In English, Spanish and other languages, legal documents are filled with formal words and phrases. It is therefore worth learning the most common phrases and their meanings so that you can understand English laws and legal terminology more easily.

3. There is an official examination for legal English

If you want to study this topic in more detail, the University of Cambridge offers a legal English exam. After passing this exam, you will be awarded the International Legal English Certificate (ILEC), which you can use as evidence that you have mastered legal English and International Law. The qualification is highly valued by law firms and international companies, which makes it an excellent way of demonstrating your knowledge before starting new a job or professional challenge—whether you’re a translator or a lawyer.

4. The passive voice is frequently used

In English, the passive is the dominant voice in all legal documents. This means that legal translators need to take particular care when translating verbs from or into legal English.

5. There are a large number of online resources

You can find all kinds of interesting information about Common Law and legal English online, from university publications to bar associations. For example, the Bar Association of Malaga has a very interesting blog about legal English, and many others about Comparative Law.

Legal translation services: When are they needed? (business internationalisation, international contracts, etc.)

If your business is planning to start the internationalisation process and attract customers from new markets, you will need legal translation services for several types of documents. Examples include initial business proposals, your website’s cookie policy and the profile you will use to introduce your company to new suppliers or potential partners.

You will need certified translation services for tasks such as signing international contracts and joining foreign registries.

At Acantho, we can help you choose the right service for your needs. We´ll make sure your data is fully protected, singing a specific confidentiality agreement if required.

Documents requiring legal translation

  • Contracts
  • Company charters
  • Powers of attorney
  • Expert reports
  • Legal claims
  • Wills and trusts
  • Articles of association
  • Insurance policies, etc.

In short, legal translation is needed for any document or text written by an expert in law, as well as financial documents containing legal concepts.

Requirements for becoming a legal translator

Given the complexity of this type of translation, professional legal translators must have university-level training in translation, national law and translation law. Ideally, they will have a master’s degree or completed another specialised course in legal translation.

Why choose Acantho for professional legal translation?

We translate legal documents for a range of clients including law firms, auditors and international companies.

There is no margin for error in legal translation, which means it should only be done by the best legal translators: specialised professionals with extensive experience translating legal documents, who will guarantee top-quality results. Translators like the ones on Acantho’s legal translation team. If you have any questions about our legal translation services, need more information or would like to know the price for your translation, please call us on (+34) 976 910 302, or send an email to, and we´ll be more than happy to assist you. We’ll take a look at your documents and give you an obligation-free quote at no cost.