How To Choose The Right Legal Translator?

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Written by: pTranslate Contributors


Why Should You Choose The Right Legal Translator?

When working with international clients and business partners, it is crucial that you have your documents, reports, presentations and every related material properly translated.

A well-translated document ensure that your messages are conveyed accurately with a professional tone.

More importantly, documents with highly technical content (especially Legal documents) call for a specialist with expertise in that field AND language proficiency to handle the translation project. If given into the wrong hands, the final translation can cause tons of misunderstandings whose damage will take a lot of time to reverse.

You want to cherry-pick your Legal translators before starting the project.

When determining eligibility of a prospective Legal translator, it is highly recommended to contact a translator (as well as editor and reviewer or proof-reader) with:

  • Language expertise
  • Language Match
  • Experience
  • Other qualifications, such as translation credentials
  • Member of Language Associations
  • Access to specialized technology for translators
how to choose the right legal translator

1) Language Expertise

Of course, a translator are supposed to have superior language capabilities and skills. They shouldn’t only be a good user of both languages, but a passionate user. A passionate translator knows how to find the best expressions of the idea in both languages and conveys it to the readers in a flawless fashion. What’s better is that once they have that passion, they will strive to elevate the translation as close to perfection as possible.

So, how do we determine those intangible traits in a translator?

Well, the most tangible way to go about it is using degrees and certificates.

When choosing a translator, you should always ask them to provide you with their CV, in which details of their education, professional backgrounds, and previous projects are included. Quickly scan for language certificates, universities, and any other metrics that show their language capabilities.

If you don’t know the target language (which is the language that you want your documents to be translated into), then those are all you can do. However, if you know a tiny bit, or native, of the target language, then you can take it one step further.

Try to be attentive to all grammatical and dictation mistakes in their CV too. Most of the time, there wouldn’t be any, but if there happens to be one, albeit small, you have already spotted a red flag.

Also, read the way they phrase the sentences. If you want them to translate a non-English document to English, read their English CV. Are their sentences well-constructed and “smooth” to read? Are they clunky and hard to understand? From the first glances of the CV, you could have already eliminated the bad weed.

After that, ask for some samples. Samples in the field you want to translate are preferred. Skim through the documents to see how well they translate in previous projects. The same rule applies: is it easy to read and understand? Is it “smooth”? Does the sample sound as if it is written entirely by a native of the target language?

If it is not possible to select a credentialed translator (for example, you are in a country where the target language is uncommon, and there is no source to check the language expertise), the translator may be chosen from some other reliable list or from other credible sources that may be available.

However, it is essential to check the translators’ qualifications and experience with the ins-and-outs of technical translation in the field before engaging their services.

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2) Language Match

In general, the best result is obtained if the chosen translator’s mother tongue is in the target language. For example, if you wish to translate a document from English into Spanish, it is recommended to choose a translator whose first language is Spanish. If you wish to translate a document from Spanish into English, it is recommended to choose a translator whose first language is English.

This rule is easy enough to understand, right? Normally, translators will also charge a tiny fee to translate from their native language to a non-native language, so it is cost-effective for you to choose someone whose mother is the target language. That translator will be able to complete the task more effectively, and with much higher accuracy, too. After all, it is their native language. It is a part of them.

However, sometimes things get much more complicated.

In some countries, the language is incredibly diverse. We all know that Canada is a country with 2 official languages: English and French. In some region, they use English, when in others, they use French. If you don’t know what language your clients use, it might cause some back-and-forth calling to resolve an entirely mistranslated project.

In India, things get even more complex. There is no national language in India, but there are approximately 22 official languages used in the country. Different regions use different languages, and there are hundreds of variants and dialects within those languages, too. Local language is not that big of an issue when handling official, formal documents, but when you work with literary and creativity-based documents, the vocabulary can get really diverse with local elements involved.

It’s about knowing exactly what language to use. Normally, translators can get around this “local language” barrier just fine as long as they have access to the resources for translating local dialects in their country. You still should notify the translator of these little linguistic challenges in your documents so that they can better prepare for it.

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3) Experience

Having a flair for language is great, but there are things that only come with experience and sometimes failure.

A good translator is usually gifted, but a great translator is gifted and experienced.

Usually, an inexperienced translator won’t get themselves involved in big projects. Most of them have to start small and slowly work their way up, gaining experience and increasing the level of difficulty and complexity in each project.

Of course, inexperienced doesn’t mean low-quality, but it is worth taking a step back to carefully consider their expertise. If you want to only get the gist of the document, have a general understanding of it, or the sensitivity of the document is not high, then you can go for an inexperienced translator. Their fee is relatively lower, and they strive to deliver beyond your requirements (because they want to gain popularity in the field).

However, if you have high standards for your project, or want to achieve the highest level of perfection in the translations, you may want to consider someone with more experience. Important and sensitive documents, such as Legal or Medical documents, should only be handled by experts with years of exposure to the field.

4) Level of Qualifications

The translator’s level of qualification, specialization, standard of general education, and relevant experience should be appropriate to the complexity of the text and the specialist nature of the text.

5) Membership in a Professional Body

The translator should ideally be certified by American Translators Association (ATA) which has a translation certification exam, Code of Ethics and disciplinary power over its members. If it is a language for which there are no certified translators, it is advisable to find someone who is an ATA member.

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6) Access to Translation Technology

While doing Translation, the translator can find a lot of help from various sources, such as:

  • Dictionarya dictionary is a must for any translator. There are a lot of dictionaries too. There are dictionaries solely for idioms, phrasal verbs, and even slang.


  • Google: Google is a translator’s best friend. In a lot of cases, the translator can simply do a quick Google search to find out the information that they need to complete their translation. For specialist translators, Google is a wonderful tool to keep themselves updated on the industry’s latest news.


  • Translators’ Forums: This is where translators gather. Google is not the best assistant when it comes to translating difficult words. Translators can find fellow translators on translators forums and ask them for help on the tricky words they need to translate


  • Translation memory: Translation memory is a technology that helps translators greatly in their translation process. Translation Memory stores frequently encountered words and make suggestions for those words. Translators can choose to use the suggestions, or translate the word on their own. Thanks to Translation Memory, translators can speed up their translation process and improve consistency. For brands with a brand voice, Translation Memory can help them keep the brand voice across all languages, which is powerful from a Marketing perspective.


Legal Translation is a challenging field. It requires the translators to have both world-class language proficiency and legal expertise. Finding a good Legal Translator is not a simple task, but with the aforementioned tips, it is totally possible.

Feel free to tell us more about your experience with Legal Translation. As always, all opinions are welcomed.

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