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Top Seven Legal Translation Pain Points (and What to Do About Them)

Legal translations are a necessary part of international contracts, articles of incorporation, patents, intellectual property documents, depositions, insurance claims, employment agreements, non-disclosure agreements, wills and company bylaws. Working with a professional language service provider (LSP) is a good first step to create high-quality legal translations. Even so, there are some common pain points that can occur during the process.

Before embarking on a new legal translation project, consider these top pain points that you might experience and what you can do to prevent them.


You do not need to translate every document involved in a court case, especially if you have a large volume of content to translate into several languages. While your LSP might have the scale to translate thousands of pages, larger projects often require longer turnaround times—time that you don’t have to spare. Your schedule doesn’t have room for unnecessary or redundant work.

The best solution is to clearly identify for your legal translators what you do and do not need them to translate. You don’t want to leave it up to the LSP to decide what portions you want to translate, as they might process more pages than you need.

Using the wrong linguists

Legal translation requires precise knowledge and experience to understand relevant legal terminology and create accurate target-language materials. A non-specialized bilingual translator won’t suffice to translate legal content.

Instead, your LSP should have linguists with experience working with law firms, lawyers and the legal system to get the best results—or better yet, be legal professionals themselves. Specialized translators will have a better understanding of the legal system and its unique terminology in the target market.

Also, be sure that linguists place considerable importance on syntax and punctuation throughout every document to maintain a high degree of accuracy. A misplaced comma can easily change the meaning of a sentence.

Confusing machine and premium translation services

There are some cases where you just need a quick translation of a short document that isn’t legally binding. Or, you just need a basic understanding of an email or brief. This is where machine translation would be enough. You don’t need to spend the extra time or money to have the most thorough translations when machine translation could quickly give you the gist of what the content is about.

Premium translation services—services provided by highly specialized linguists—are ideal for contracts, legally binding documents, international marketing materials for a law firm and other pieces that need to be accurate, complete and legally sound. While premium translation takes longer, it is well worth the expense for content that requires high quality and precision.

Lack of awareness about the legal systems in other countries

Every country has its own set of laws and standards in place, not to mention court systems and roles. As a result, not all terminology or legal jargon means the same thing in every language. For example, in France and the United Kingdom, the French phrase “Garde des Sceaux”, which means “Guardian of the Seals”, does not have an equivalent within the British legal system. Instead, it should be translated as the “Justice Secretary” to reflect the different roles and titles in the other country.

It is imperative that legal translators have experience working with not only the languages but the legal systems of the countries in which you will use the documents. Country-specific nuances need to be identified and converted as part of the translation process. If you don’t work with an experienced translation team, phrases and terms in one language could be incorrect in another, which could have negative ramifications for both the court proceedings and your company.

Understanding when verbatim translations are needed

Good translation is rarely a word-for-word exchange. In many situations, changing the phrasing of a sentence during the translation process can bring greater clarity and meaning to a sentence. However, in legal translations, there are some instances when you need a direct, verbatim translation with little deviation. Your LSP should know when a more literal translation is legally necessary, such as for courtroom depositions.

Not using a glossary of terms

A glossary of terms specific to your firm’s legal translation projects can make a big difference in the outcome of your project. Every law firm has its own internal standards and policies, leading to jargon that may be different from other firms. Your legal translation team can use this glossary of terms for each project to make sure the translated content meets your needs and accurately reflects your company.

If your firm does not yet have a glossary, you can ask your LSP to help create one and manage ongoing terminology updates. They can start by using a generic legal glossary that you can customize based on your company’s preferences. While this won’t be an instantaneous process, terminology building can continue throughout your relationship.

Setting unrealistic deadlines

Quality legal translation takes time. Try not to push unrealistic deadlines on your LSP. It’s impossible to get a large contract returned by the end of the day without compromising quality. When a very quick turnaround time is needed, an LSP can double or triple the number of linguists completing the work, but it’s much harder to manage, and quality and consistency often degrade.


While legal translation projects require specialized expertise, they do not need to be complicated. By addressing these common challenges and partnering with the right LSP, you can get the quick, accurate and high-quality translated documents that you need.

If you need help with an upcoming legal translation project, reach out to our expert team about how we can help avoid these common pain points. And for information on everything you need to consider when translating your legal content, check out our ebook The Definitive Guide to Legal Translations.