Legal sector translation is a technical, professional service delivered by highly qualified translation specialists with excellent real-world legal experience and with robust quality control procedures and checks in place.
While AI translation models present a cheap, fast alternative, the cost saving represents a significant risk, where any contractual documentation or legal materials that contain mistakes, misleading phraseology or ambiguities could render the content void or unlawful.
Automated translations are undoubtedly a speedy way to translate a passage quickly. Still, the trade-off is unacceptable in a legal context and for any business or individual entering into a contract or agreement relying on the quality of their translation.
Why Is Automated Translation Unsuitable for Legal Translations?
- Insurance translation and forms
- Patent translation applications and registrations
- Agreement and contract translation
- Certified translations of standards, accreditations or legal statutes
- Legal document and financial translation
The challenge with translations provided by software, apps, or machine learning is that these tools cannot appreciate context, nuance, inferences, or tone. In many legal documents, the meaning of a clause or passage is imperative to imply urgency or assign emphasis.
Translating a document with any legal use word for word, or even sentence for sentence, can easily mean the intention is lost, confused, or doesn't make sense.
A good illustration is the word 'must' – a clear, direct and uncomplicated word commonly used in English. In a legal document, if one party must fulfil an obligation or uphold the terms, this cannot be misconstrued.
However, the correct word choice may vary in other languages and dialects. Translation software often provides the German word 'sollen' in place of must – but this means 'should' – a perfect example of a seemingly inconsequential mistake that can be very serious in legal proceedings.
Limitations of Automatic Translation for Legal Use
Another complexity specific to legal and financial translation is the importance of layout, formatting, and syntax that we might not use in any other context. Syntactic ambiguity means that placing grammar, icons or poor linguistics, such as 'and/or' in a legal translation confuses or distorts the content.
Grammar and syntax are unique within languages, but automated translations will normally attempt to replicate the same formatting and paragraph structures, even if this needs to be revised in line with how a reader interprets the finished translation.
Local expressions are notoriously complex to translate, so we cultivate a team of first-tongue speakers with an innate grasp of the equivalent phrase or terms in the appropriate target language.
Automated translations can replicate one language with another that uses the same baseline dictionary but with contrasting spellings – such as UK English into Canadian, Australian or US English. In legal translation, it remains advisable to use properly qualified native speakers to ensure a common term doesn’t lose its meaning.
Translation Skills Specific to Legal Translations
Legal terminology features many idiosyncrasies, so capable legal translators with sufficient knowledge of the respective legal industry jargon will ensure:
- Texts or passages reflect the correct tone, normally written in the passive voice.
- Terminology, citations or legal references used in court cases are accurate and relevant.
- All words are replaced with a suitable translation that cannot be perceived as indeterminate to preserve certainty in certificate translation and other scenarios.
- Translated documents are understood and accepted by court interpreters.
Some phrases in UK legal documentation, such as 'just cause' and 'grave necessity', don't exist in the same way in other languages. These phrases must be properly translated without being confusing or nonsensical in the target translation language.
Using another example to show what this might look like in practice, the phrase ‘just cause’, translated through automation software, becomes 'solo perché' in Italian and 'просто потому что' in Russian. Respectively, the reverse translation is ‘just because’ in both languages, which means something very different.
Common Legal Translation Errors
Even the most advanced automation software uses literal translations, which can have consequences where legal, formal or official documents cause offence. There are also many implications of using a direct translation where automated tools cannot recognise differences in measurement units, currencies or the applicable legislation.
In any legal setting, whether signing a lease agreement, submitting a certified translation, entering into a contract with an overseas partner, or dealing with ownership deeds, investments, or private estates, these mistakes can be disastrous and present risks to every partner.
Some participants may refuse to sign a document which contains errors. In other circumstances, the mistake may be overlooked but mean the agreement is null and void, impossible to enforce, or puts a responsibility or financial burden on the wrong party.
Liabilities Linked With Low-Quality Legal Translations
Finally, any business, from law firms to those organising translation services for a legal document, should be cautious when using automation software for any aspect of the negotiation or agreement.
Digital automation software, particularly free software, does not belong to the user and is not licensed to them. That can mean sensitive, confidential and commercially delicate details translated by legal firms through automation are released into the public domain.
Translation carried out by a legal translator with extensive experience working with global institutions will be contained within firewalls without content exposed to unauthorised access.
Unlicensed software can also give rise to severe outcomes where copyright rights are breached, whether because the issuing party published translated content it does not have legal ownership over or because the nature of the content is not safeguarded from external visibility. This can be particularly important in intellectual property translations.
If you require support with translating legal documents, we recommend requesting a free quote from our established translation team with a comprehensive understanding of all the risks outlined to protect your business, legal agreements and reputation from damage.
Our professional legal translation service team are highly qualified and offers accurate translations for all legal professionals and financial clients, with dedicated account managers to keep you up to speed with progress and completion times, even when you have tight deadlines to contend with.
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About Absolute Translations
Absolute Translations understands the importance of quality and reliability and this comes at the forefront of our translation services. Our many years of experience have made it possible for us to work with some of the most talented professional translators as well as leading global brands around the world in more than 200 languages, with business translation services from our London, UK and European offices.
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