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Legal Document Translation: Description, Types, and Challenges

Legal Document Translation: Description, Types, and Challenges

Legal document translation is different from other translation work and requires specialized expertise. Translating legal texts, which are already difficult to understand, becomes even more complex due to differences in legal systems between countries and the inability of legal concepts and terms to have exact equivalents in different languages. Legal document translation requires a high level of accuracy as even a single mistranslation can have serious consequences. Therefore, it is important to work with qualified legal translators who possess knowledge of both law and the grammar and terminology of the target language. Legal translations are considered a specialized field within translation services and should be carried out with great care to ensure the accurate conveyance of meaning and expression in legal texts.

What is Legal Document Translation?

Legal document translation includes translating a wide range of legal texts such as contracts, laws, and patents, as well as complex documents like judgments and decrees. It involves converting legal documents, files, or records into the target language for use in the legal system.

These translations need to be done by expert translators who have a strong ground in law, a deep understanding of the legit system, and good command of legal language.

Types of Legal Document Translation

Types of legal document translation vary depending on the documents and needs, and the terminology used can differ from one country to another. There is no universally accepted definition for official translations; specialized services such as “sworn translation,” “certified translation,” and “notarized translation” are offered to meet specific requirements like patent applications, notarial approval, and apostille translations. Additionally, translations of litigation, legislation, regulation, corporate, and financial documents play a significant role in legal translation. Legal document translations should be performed considering the specific requirements of different languages and document types.

What Types of Documents Require Legal Translation?

Legal translation encompasses work in a wide range of fields. Some of the most common types of legal translation include:

Contract translation

Contract translations, which form the basis of almost everything businesses do, are crucial for protecting businesses and customers from negative legal consequences.

Intellectual Property

Translations of intellectual property play a significant role in legal translation work, and ensuring the protection of your intellectual property rights is highly important.

Certificate translation

Individuals who wish to work in a foreign country need to rephrase their instruments in compliance with the working conditions and labor ordinances of that country.


These documents include interviews, statements, written communications, internal emails, and more.


Due to variations in legal systems from country to country, existing laws and regulations require accurate legal translation services.


Translating your patents by professional legal agencies is essential for promoting your rights to sell or produce a specific product internationally.


The increase in international business relations has also increased the demand for financial translation. Legal document translation encompasses the translation of documents that include accounting, banking information, or financial concepts such as cash flow statements, audit reports, and balance sheets.

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The Challenges of Legal Translation

The primary reason why legal document translations are crucial for businesses is their potential to cause serious financial and legal issues. Therefore, translators specializing in legal translation, who handle documents such as international agreements, patents, insurance claims, intellectual property documents, or company formation documents, should avoid the following major mistakes. It is essential for them to have a strong command of both the source and target languages and possess sufficient legal knowledge.

1. General Challenges

Legal Language and Terminology

Legal terms or legal language itself is a challenging subject. Expressing the terminology present in one legal system in another legal system can be quite difficult. Sentence structure in legal documents can be complex, and a language that includes vague, ambiguous, abstract, or pompous words may be used. Passive sentence structure, complex sentences, and proper use of punctuation can also create difficulties.

False Equivalents

Legal terms often share the same spelling as commonly used words. This situation can lead to false equivalents, where a word may have two different translations in the target language, resulting in difficulties in conveying the correct meaning.

Different Legal Systems

The legal system of each country, and consequently the legal documents within the system, can vary significantly. There may be differences in terminology or concepts between legal systems. This difference creates ambiguity in translation and requires translators to have a good understanding of the differences and similarities between the source and target legal systems.

Changing Legal Systems

Laws and legal systems can change or be amended over time. So, it’s important for legit translators to stay streamlined on these changes.

Otherwise, they will not be able to provide translations of the desired quality and accuracy.

2. Document-Based Challenges


The greatest challenge in translating contracts is to avoid ambiguity. Since legal language is already difficult to understand, translators need to have a strong command of both languages and deliver a translation that is clear and free of ambiguity.

Financial records

Financial records use a specific language and terminology that involves special terms, calculations, and reporting. Additionally, financial records often include numerical data, and the format and layout of numerical expressions can vary in different languages, requiring careful attention in translation.

Intellectual property

In translations related to intellectual property, attention should be paid to terminology differences in areas such as patents, copyright, and trademarks. Additionally, legal regulations in different countries and international agreements should be considered. Translations should reflect these differences to ensure smooth patent applications.

Differences Between Legal Translation and Other Types

There are significant differences between legal document translation and general translation in terms of content, purpose, structure and formatting, context, and terminology. Legal translations must be done using specific texts in a particular language and must meet certain requirements to be valid in foreign countries. The structure of legal documents is standardized, and translators need to be precise in terminology and language usage. Additionally, additional context and cultural factors should be considered in legal translations. Legal terms and language may not be familiar to non-legal professionals, making the expertise of a specialized legal translator crucial, and machine translation is not recommended.

Bekir Diri
Bekir Diri

Bekir Diri, founder of Atlas Localization, studied at Trakya University, Department of Translation and Interpretation. He gained industry experience with his MA in Translation Studies in Istanbul 29 Mayis University, with his thesis titled “Turkish Issues in Game, Mobile Application and Web Localization”, while also improving himself in the field. He also lectures about Translation Technologies, Project Management and Localization in Istanbul 29 Mayis University.

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