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It is important to use specialist translators for legal documents

Specialist lawyers in the relevant area

There was legal chat on UK social media earlier in the year (in Jan 2022) by solicitors and barristers about the appropriateness – or lack – of lawyers offering legal insight on court cases when their specialism is not in the relevant area.

The sensible conclusion was that, for example, a specialist in family law ought not to provide specific advice on criminal law, just as an expert in tax law ought not to advise on an immigration case, particularly when the case involves different countries. There may be nuances or specifics they are unaware of or that differ in each jurisdiction.

Specialist translators to translate in specialist areas

Translators also specialise. Often, you will find translators who list ‘law’ as a specialism. But, as with solicitors and barristers, we need to clarify which area of law and make sure they have more than just a general overview.

Are they experts in succession law, or family law and domestic violence? Contracts or immigration? The accuracy of your translated document depends on the translator’s expertise.

The ideal scenario would be for the translator also to be a qualified lawyer (a “lawyer-linguist”), and in the relevant area. Another excellent solution is to seek translators who have taken specialist legal courses in the relevant area, alongside solicitors and paralegals.

It hopefully goes without saying – but we will say it anyway – that a translator who usually translates general commercial texts, or who has a specialism but in a totally unrelated field like engineering, or chemistry, should not be used to translate a specialist legal document.

Language and the law

In a fantastic description of the importance of language in the law for prospective legal students (which we recommend reading in full) Sturm College of Law describes how “Words are the essential tools of the law”.

Not only do lawyers use words alien to other fields but they also use words that mean one thing in the non-legal world and another in a contract, or claim, for instance. Some words differ in their interpretation, depending in which context they are used. Think of concepts like “possession” or “malice”.

Words are the essential tools of the law

The specialist legal translator understands this in both the original and the translated language.

For example, a specialist translator understands the difference between the terms “domicile” and “resident” and renders them appropriately in the new language. A non-specialist may not fully grasp the implications of using one over the other. The end client’s finances, family and even freedom may rest on the decisions the translator makes.

Terms of art need similar care. Phrases loaded with legal meaning in one country or culture, may not exist in the same way in the other, and the translator must choose wisely how they translate them.


A solicitor who practices in England or Wales may not be aware of differences in law across borders. They may, therefore choose not to practice or advise in cross-border issues.

However, the translator who is tasked with, say, translating an English contract into French, Spanish, or perhaps Mandarin, needs to fully understand those differences and potentially even provide a note to the end client flagging why certain differences may cause an issue.

Legal translators must have specialist linguistic skills

‘Good grammar’ is nice to have in any setting; some would say essential, for giving a good impression and avoiding confusion. But while mistakes may be forgiven elsewhere in business, in law, even a misplaced comma can have unintended effects.

All translators should have excellent grammar and be able to write compellingly. Legal translators should be impeccable. To return to the law school’s comments, they must have a “heightened respect for linguistic precision” and “know exactly how to wield that comma”.

Quality Languages for your legal project

Our specialist legal translators include practicing and non-practicing solicitors, and dedicated linguists who regularly sit alongside legal professionals completing the same gruelling exams and courses they do.

When a specialist term has been used in your document, they understand why, and they translate it for the right effect in the new language.

If your legal project involves English and one of our ten languages, please contact us and we will see who our most suitable specialist is for your translation.

For any language not included in our usual group, we would be glad to try and help you find a suitable expert. We also advise you check one of the professional institutions for their members and read our piece on how to decide which translator to use and when.

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