Translating without breaking the law

February 18, 2019

 

Like everything in life, legal translation has its advantages and drawbacks. The pleasant part about it for me as a translator is that it is a fixed, almost ritualistic, language. In English and in Spanish, it is full of words like tort, interlocutory decree, subpoena, affidavit—and many more that we would not dream of using in everyday speech. Just as a judge wields a gavel and wears a robe, legal language, or legalese as it is known in unforgiving terms, is comprised of special words used within a set structure.

 

In turn, this structure is adapted to different types of documents. The most common ones that come across my desk are: certificates (birth, death and divorce) contracts (also known as agreements in some situations), leases (a form of agreement), articles of incorporation and correspondence (letters, sometimes handwritten). Both these specialized terms and structure of the legal documents give me a great sense of security when translating.

 

The tricky part about legal documents are the laws themselves. Any country you go to will have different laws, and there is a big difference between the legal system in the English-speaking world and the Spanish-speaking world. You see, Anglo-Saxon countries are based on Common Law, and Spain and Latin America  follow Roman Law. The only state in the United States influenced by Roman Law is Louisiana because it was a former French colony.

 

Therefore, whatever legal terms pertaining to a specific law or reference to that law cannot always be translated into a similar term used in a different legal system. It is often necessary to translate directly some Spanish legal terms into English. Otherwise, the translator would be translating a term into a concept that simply does not exist in the source language. So legal  translations are something of a hybrid between what does exist in both languages and direct translations of those concepts that do not.

 

So, there is a great deal of skill and knowledge involved in translating legal documents. Some challenging text takes a while to translate because of the word order, obscure language and unfamiliar concepts. If care is not taken, a translation can be produced that is seemingly correct, but lacks depth and contains potential errors. This can lead to problems for clients who depend on an accurate translation. As I specialize in legal documents, I take pride in all of the research I have done to get where I am today. I constantly read up on law, take distance courses, collect terminology from reliable sources and communicate with legal professionals

 

I am passionate about legal translation because the law is so thorough, so descriptive, and unlike medical or technical texts, I can directly relate to laws because I come across them every day and there is quite a bit of coverage thanks to the attorneys that appear on TV and in the press.

 

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