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Riding the Legal Translation Teeter Totter

iStock-658964652 -- gears speed, cost, efficieny

If you’ve ever been on a teeter-totter, you know it takes two to make it work—and that’s certainly true when talking about legal translation. Speed is on one end, quality on the other, and when you get the balance right, the result is a successful translation. The fulcrum, or point of balance, encompasses a number of best practices, all of which support the outcome of a perfectly translated legal document or project.

Two key steps—personnel acquisition and scalable processes—lead the way. These are in play long before the project lands on a translator’s desk. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Sourcing Specialist Personnel

Precision begins with hiring. A dedicated vendor coordinator interviews and qualifies applicants for multiple positions, including translators, proofreaders, editors, desktop publishers, and global subject matter experts. Every individual on a successful translation team must have extensive legal translation experience, competence in the languages involved (native-level fluency in the case of the translators) and a robust understanding of scalable processes. The team’s ability to deliver on time is a crucial component of the balance between speed and quality, so in addition to proficiency, reliability and solid experience, candidates must be vetted specifically for qualifications that enable speedy project completion, such as the capacity to work smoothly in a team situation and, in particular, their availability. When working with high volume projects that have seemingly impossible turnaround times, a candidate’s commitment to work evenings and weekends becomes a valuable qualification.

Legal translations present a high degree of technical difficulty, so expert translators are the backbone of success in any legal translation project. It’s hard to overstate how specialized a legal translator must be. Each one is chosen according to their legal specialty. The best legal translators are certified lawyers in their own country, and many will have been engaged in active legal practice for years. Because of this, they understand how culture affects cases and realize from personal experience that clients have deadlines of their own.

Translators should be fluent in both of the languages used in your project. Equally important, they must grasp the gradations of legal terminology. It’s not just about getting individual words right; it includes communicating the ideas and feelings behind the words. This depth of expertise allows them to quickly identify the legal meaning of words, (which might be different from the colloquial usage, for example, the difference between “will” and “shall”), and to make the appropriate translation choices quickly and intuitively so the distinctions and nuances are conveyed in the translated material.

This extends to punctuation, where, for example, the inclusion or omission of a single punctuation mark can create enough uncertainty to result in million-dollar consequences. This can happen even within a single language. For example, in a 2018 case in Portland, Maine, USA, the omission of a comma in a contract cost a local dairy $5 million to settle an overtime dispute with its drivers. Skilled legal translators will query and clarify the wording of the original text to make sure such uncertainties don’t show up in your translated document.

Building Scalable Processes

Exactly what is scalability? In the simplest terms, scalability is the capacity to adapt in the face of changing, and especially increasing, demand. The ability to scale effectively allows a translation provider to meet the fluctuating demands of large-scale, complex legal projects in numerous countries and multiple languages. In the case of legal translations, the work must often scale to accommodate very large projects and very short turnaround times. The size of the project determines the size of the team.

The complexity of legal projects requires innovative ways of getting them done. Translating a high-volume project start to finish with one translator doesn’t always work out timewise. Simultaneous work by multiple translators, then, is the best model for the nature of high-volume legal translations and tight deadlines. This is a time-efficient process in which multiple translators each work with one assigned section of the project and then, once they have finished, forward that section of the work to the proofreaders. who check also for accuracy and flag any questionable or unclear text. Depending on the volume and timeline, the proofreaders step in and access the document while the translators are still translating. This way, they can perform their proofreading task parallel to the translation work, to save time and streamline terminology on the go. This kind of layered workflow ensures each individual segment is accurate and fits seamlessly into the project as a whole. The outcome is a perfectly clean document—ready for delivery to the client.

Other Factors at the Fulcrum

A number of additional best practices support speedy completion of a large-volume project.

  • Excellent communication throughout the process prevents hold-ups and snags.
  • Having accessible resources means that experienced personnel around the world are available on short notice.
  • A trouble-free, interactive and secure client portal makes it simple to request quotes, order jobs, upload source documents, ask questions, manage notifications and receive deliveries.
  • The use of industry-leading technology—CAT tools (computer assisted translation tools), Translation Memory and terminology databases—allows for better consistency and the re-use of past translations, maximizing the resources available to the translator.
  • Regular oversight by a dedicated project manager ensures timely workflow and allows immediate resolution of anything that may unbalance the effort.

Achieving the perfect balance between speed and quality in a legal translation project may seem as challenging as keeping level when you’re riding that teeter-totter with a much lighter or heavier person. Some contractors, in fact, may be willing to sacrifice quality in order to get the job delivered on time. But the most successful legal translations use scalable models, specialist translators and a host of other factors as we’ve discussed here, to balance the teeter-totter without compromising either quality or speed.

If you want help balancing quality and speed in your legal translation project, contact us here. We love to build custom solutions that meet complex needs.