How is legal translation different from non-legal?

Translation in general is diverse in its nature and consequently its output largely depends on your need out of it, which poses the question about how legal translation is different from non-legal translation.

If you intend to use the translated document for legal or any other official purposes (court document, power of attorney, memorandum of association, birth certificate, marriage certificate or any other similar purpose, HR manuals, processes, procedures, circulars, etc…), the translation must be done as a legal, translation by a sworn translator.

However, you may need a general, non-sworn translation if you want to translate a document for general purposes (for example, if you only want to  understand the message or use the translated document for daily general purposes) or get the document translated for advertising purposes (copywriting, media translation, translation of advertising or branding material). This topic will be handled in a separate article.

In the former case (legal translation), you still need to specify the particular purpose of this legally translated document. You need to ask yourself: “Do I need it to be legally stamped by a sworn translator (translator who is certified by the Ministry of Justice) or need legal translation in the general sense?”

What is the difference between a legally stamped translation and a general legal translation?

A document that needs to be legally stamped by an official sworn translator must be ‘literally’ translated to convey the exact source text with all its correct and wrong information. Some official documents may be issued with wrong or contradictory data due to some typos or errors when entering data. When legally translated and required to be stamped by a sworn translator, the translations of such documents must reflect the exact mistakes. Although this statement might look weird and beyond logic to some people, but it is a fact that has serious legal consequences if not done that way. A sworn translator is required by law to convey the exact message of the source with no interference; this will be at the expense and regardless of any aesthetic aspects.

Nevertheless, such errors or wrong data, if any, must be brought, and usually professional translators bring, to the client’s attention to correct them in the source file to ensure that the source text and target translation are identical with the correct content.

On the other hand, legal translation for general purposes differs from the legally translated document with an affixed sworn translator’s stamp and signature in that it requires precise conveyance of the meaning with some room available for the translator’s interference.

In such documents, the translator is expected to convey the intent of the source document but with an eye widely open to the legal indications of some important aspects. These documents, although not initially intended to be used in legal contexts, have huge probability to be used in future as references for legal/judicial purposes in case a dispute arises. Examples of such document include HR manuals, matrices of authority, companies’ processes and procedures, and similar documentation. A company initially develops such documents as a guide, but subsequently may be, and are frequently, used as a reference for dispute settlement or legal actions.

Eventually, I hope I have highlighted some important aspects that need to be taken into consideration when heading to translate a document, but you are the one to decide if you need legal translation for your document or not based on how and where you will use it.