The Quintessential Legal Translation Checklist

We are often contacted by legal clients who need documents translated for use in a legal proceeding or as a reference tool. In some cases, it is the first time that a paralegal or legal assistant is requesting translation services.  Part of our role as a language solutions provider is to serve as cultural consultants and advise clients on the best approach when language services are needed.

One of the most important elements to consider when requesting legal translations is to ensure that the translation team specializes in the translation of legal text or has professional experience in the legal field.  This is critical to ensure accuracy of the translations. In addition, most legal translators specialize in a particular area. For instance, a legal translator who is experienced in real estate law may not be as proficient in patent law and terminology. Engaging a translator who specializes in a different legal field than the field of the text to be translated may compromise accuracy.

Following is a legal translation checklist to consider when requesting translations:

Target Language and Dialect – It sounds simple, right! You need an English document translated into Spanish.  However, in many cases, it is important to know the proper dialect of the language to ensure accuracy and a better understanding of the text by those who need the translation.  For instance, Spanish differs greatly in Latin America and Spain. The same applies to French for France, Canada or West Africa, and some Middle Eastern languages are also specific to their locales.

Type of Legal Field/Document – Do the documents for translation include corporate notes, financial documents, patents, case/tort briefings, etc.?  Engaging a translator with experience in a particular legal field and professional experience with a certain type of document will ensure accurate translations.

Volume/Word Count –Law firms normally operate on hourly rates, while a language services provider (LSP) will typically charge on a per word basis for translation. Knowing the word count or volume of documents to be translated can streamline the process and result in cost savings for the law firm.

Number of Translators – Depending on the volume of documents to be translated and the timeline, the LSP may suggest having multiple translators work simultaneously on the translations.  Typically, a single editor would be engaged regardless of the number of translators to ensure consistency of the translated text.  In addition, having a style guide or list of terminology for all translators and the editor will further ensure the accuracy and consistency of the translations.

Intended Use of the Translations – Are the translated documents to be used in actual legal proceedings or more for reference by the attorneys? This can be important to gauge the required accuracy and proficiency of the translator.

Notarization/Apostille –Translation of more formal or official documents can be certified and notarized by the LSP.  The LSP can usually provide an affidavit certifying the translation as true and accurate and provide a notarized signature of the certifying person.  LSPs can also translate apostilles needed for international acceptance of notarized documents. Apostilles are typically issued by the Office of the Secretary of State.

Human or Machine Translation – This is a function of the volume, type of documents and intended use of the translations.  Human translation should be called upon for documents that require a high degree of accuracy. Machine translations can provide a fast turnaround at a lower cost, but is typically reserved for content not requiring accurate translation or to get a gist of large data sets, for example during the e-discovery process.  Read more about human and machine translations.

CETRA specializes in providing translations for various legal fields, including international litigation and patents, as well as interpretation services for depositions and other legal proceedings.  We hope you found this checklist helpful, and we would be happy to answer any additional questions you my have.  Please contact us at

This is the second edition of the “CETRA Legal Series” on our blog.  In this series, we will feature the expertise needed to provide quality language services for the legal field.