Difficulties of Legal Translation

Last Updated On: November 20, 2023

inTranslation News

Legal Translation


Legal translations tend to be some of the most challenging translation tasks. Some of the common problems with these types of translations are that different legal systems that exist throughout the world use different terminology. Each country’s legal system often has its own legal terms that can’t be translated with ease into other languages. Legal translations need to be conducted by professional translators who have a thorough understanding of the legal system and terms used in the countries where the legal translation is required. They should also be native speakers of the target language with a thorough understanding of the vocabulary and syntax of the language. Professional legal translators must have extensive knowledge and linguistic training in the source language.

Many legal language expressions don’t have precise equivalents in the targeted language so a literal translation might not make much sense. Sometimes the original expression is reproduced when it has been paraphrased. A translator’s note is normally added in these cases. 


    I agree to the Privacy Policy and the Collection Notice under the Australian Privacy Act.

    Understanding local culture and having knowledge of different legal systems is important too, as is experienced with legal language. When in the process of performing a legal translation, the translator must have unlimited access to all available legal resources such as libraries, online databases, legal dictionaries and relevant journals. These are necessary as a way of supplementing the translator’s knowledge so that translations can be completed which are legally valid in the targeted country. 

    Another difficulty with legal translations is the translation of certificates when a person is going to study or reside in another country. The documents could include birth certificates, immigration paperwork, college, university or school transcripts, a marriage license, police clearance certificates, divorce documents and any other legal document a country may request before visas can be issued. Accuracy is important with these types of legal documents as the translations won’t be accepted if there is any indication the translation is not a true translation of the original document. The translator is normally required to sign the translation with a statement saying it is an accurate translation.  The constant upward trend in world trade coupled with a rise in globalization has brought about an increase in requests for legal translations. 

    Even though many legal systems are different, they also often change and update, so legal translators have to check for changes every time they do a legal translation. Another tricky part of translating a legal document is in its syntax and in particular legal language is often called pompous making it difficult to read.  The legal industry tends to use complex sentences with many commas, semicolons, and apostrophes present and with a legal translation these need to be taken into consideration as even a missing comma is sufficient to create ambiguity in a legal contract, for example. The best way to avoid making mistakes is to get a second pair of eyes to proofread the translation and if possible get a local specialist to check the translation of the legal document before it is sent to the client. 

    In summary, translating a legal document is not that easy and it’s a complex task that requires not only language skills and legal knowledge but there is also the challenge of completing a legal translation quickly which is never easy because of its complex nature. It’s almost impossible to be a successful legal translator without specialist training. Working with computer-generated tools such as CAT tools and translation memory helps to make the job less difficult.  Translating a legal document requires the translators to have a lot of experience to meet the demands of the legal translation industry. Finally, as many legal translations need to be certified legal translators often be registered with official organisations like the Ministry of Justice.


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *