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Moving From Literal to Legal Translations

By Diana Marcela Arbelaez - Lingua Franca Translations

In a recent federal court case in Miami, orders by Magistrate Judge Otazo-Reyes and Judge Ursula Ungaro served as embarrassing reprimands of the defense attorneys.


The orders reminded the attorneys that they must file exhibit documents in the U.S. court system in English, not in Spanish, as they had. U.S. federal courts mandate foreign-language documents be translated into English. Experienced legal translators know the rules inside and out, and can help attorneys avoid this kind of faux pas.


This case and many others reveal the crucial need for accurate translations, produced by certified translators in the correct format. But how can law firms locate solutions providing this level of unimpeachable accuracy?

Legal translations


The most essential quality to seek in a translation service is the ability to handle translations involving legal terminology. It is one thing to translate one language into another, using literal translations. It is quite another to perform translations converting one language’s legal terms into corresponding legal language in English, understood by juries of English-speaking Americans.

Certification is key


The issue of certification is another crucial factor to consider in selecting a translation agency. American Translators Association (ATA) certification, though well respected and widely recognized, is a basic credential any translator should possess. If performing legal translation, translators should be federally certified or certified by the court. Law firms should accept nothing short of this credential.

In addition, the translation service should be capable of employing strategies to save time when working with very large amounts of material, as in the harassment case cited above. Seek an agency that can use keywords to expeditiously scan a database in the source language to determine which source documents are essential to a legal case. This saves the service from having to perform costly, unnecessary translations.


Look as well for additional measures of professionalism, such as the drafting of a glossary for every case, designed to achieve optimal levels of consistency from one document to another.


Conduct your due diligence in choosing a translation service with the same unwavering professionalism you would any other activity, and your law firm will be well on its way to gaining additional clients and winning more cross-border disputes.


Originally published Bloomberg BNA Big Law Business

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