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How to Set Up a Legal Translation Project for Success

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There are areas of law that require a lot of translation, such as patent litigation, mergers and acquisitions, contract law and real estate. Picking a translation service, optimizing the process and completing a successful project in these highly specialized areas can be fraught with risk. The consequences of a poor legal translation can reach far beyond the excessive time and cost spent fixing issues—the outcome of the case could be affected.

If you’re considering a legal translation project, here are 10 tips you should consider if you want things to run as smoothly as possible.

1. Don’t rush the selection of your translator

A standard bilingual translator can’t capably translate legal documents. You need someone with a legal background, significant industry experience and an understanding of specific laws in both countries.

Finding a good legal translator who specializes in your area of law can be an arduous task, but it’s an important one. Be patient with the search and don’t make do with someone who is only partially qualified.

Many language service providers (LSPs) may even have pools of qualified legal linguists and could be something to consider when selecting a vendor.

2. Know your LSP’s approach to large projects

Legal translation projects can be very large, requiring multiple translators to work on documents at once in order to get them done on time.

Make sure you understand from your vendor how large files are broken up, assigned to translators and brought back together. This will impact the quality of the final product and the turnaround time.

3. Ask about your project manager

The value of having a good project manager for your legal translations cannot be overstated—they are responsible for communication, responding to queries during translation and the quality of the final files.

4. Talk through your security needs

Data safety is always a priority when working with an LSP. However, always discuss your preferred channel for secure data transmission with your project manager, so your required level of data and information safety is guaranteed from the start.

If you need to translate highly confidential documents, you should find a supplier that allows you to login and upload files directly to a secure server or portal.

5. Confirm you’re getting a dedicated project team

A dedicated project team will build and retain an understanding of your specific terminology and stylistic requirements and can quickly evolve according to your feedback. If your provider assigns your work more ad-hoc, you run the risk of the results varying in quality.

6. Decide whether you need everything translated

If you have a large volume of documents, can you select a subset to be translated based on their importance to your case or the ability of your team to read the source language?

If you have a strong understanding of the source language, then omitting some content from translation can be a good way to reduce costs while completing the most essential documents.

Of course, the less you understand your source texts, the greater the risk you miss an important detail by opting not to translate everything.

7. Explore whether you need premium or gist translation

If you require an urgent translation for internal purposes only, consider the possibility of a gist translation, often performed using machine translation (MT). It’s possible to select and customize a machine translation engine for the legal domain, allowing for a quick result that may be "good enough" for your internal purposes.

This can cut both costs and turnaround time while still giving you a clear understanding of the text. However, because a linguist does not review the translation to ensure 100% accuracy, don’t use this option for any client-facing material.

8. Set expectations early

Before translating the first word, it’s important to take part in a kick-off meeting with your vendor in which you discuss references, specifications, deadlines and project goals.

If you already have glossaries, translation memories or style guides from previous translation work, be sure to send them along: they will help speed up your project significantly if the translators have them on hand from the beginning.

Also, make sure you supply any reference materials that go along with the documents to ensure consistency, especially if they are part of a bigger project, a patent or patent litigation.

It also helps to provide your LSP with your overall project deadlines, not just the translation stage. And at the end of the project, make sure you do a post-mortem to give feedback about what went well and how to do better.

9. You definitely need a glossary

It is entirely likely that your firm already has rules for how text should be presented. Do you want currency depicted as an abbreviation or a symbol? Should job titles be translated? How are abbreviations presented? Does your firm use specific terminology or expressions?

If you don’t have a glossary, ask your LSP if they can support you in creating one. Terminology management is a common service in the language industry and sometimes LSPs even have generic legal glossaries that can be customized in collaboration with your firm. Note that terminology building takes time and is a work in progress that goes hand in hand with your translation projects.

10. Microsoft Word should be the default

It’s always best to supply documents in editable file formats. PDFs and other non-editable formats are inevitable, but they must be converted to .doc files before translation can take place. Make sure your LSP can handle awkward file types.

A good LSP should also offer an effective conversion service to deal with difficult documents. While many will only charge for conversions at cost, this does add a little bit extra to the final bill. However, when it comes to formatting, the expectation of a translated file that looks identical or similar to the original is enough to justify the price for a perfect conversion. Keep in mind that converting complex PDFs or other non-editable formats plays into the turnaround time of your translation.


If you are planning a legal translation project, talk to our expert team about how to make things as simple as possible.