Legal translation is nearly as old as law itself. As one can imagine, a field so old as to be attested to by versions of the Egyptian-Hittite Peace Treaty of 1271 B.C. preserved in Akkadian cuneiform on clay tablets and in Egyptian hieroglyphics can be pretty slow to evolve, particularly in the region that birthed it. The standard amongst Israeli law firms has long been to use bilingual articulated clerks or young lawyers fresh out of school to do the job of translating legal documents. This system has become one of the entrenched “best practices” in the Israeli legal community. But it is time to disrupt this system with “next practices” – the outsourcing the translation and proofreading of contracts, pleadings, etc. to teams of skilled and expert legal translators.

The Hittite Version of the Treaty of Kadesh (on display at Istanbul Archaeology Museums)

The Hittite Version of the Treaty of Kadesh (on display at Istanbul Archaeology Museums)

While the “best practice” places the value on keeping work in-house, the “next practice” of utilizing expert legal translation firms guarantees the highest quality, as it puts the task in the hands of experts with years of experience. Over the next few weeks, we will explore why this “next practice” is rightfully the future of the industry. This week will focus on the value of expertise and keeping translations error-free.

Mistakes in the translation of legal documents are remarkably costly and have led to international disputes (such as the case with the bungled translation of the Treaty of Waitangi) and in criminal cases has led to the dismissal of charges, mistrials and even false convictions. In torts, contract, and corporate law, mistranslation has cost corporations hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties, lawsuits, and legal fees. Using the right team of legal translators like the firm I work with LinguistIt who only uses experienced with legal backgrounds makes sure those mistakes don’t happen.

The reason that even your most fluently bilingual interns, young lawyers, or clerks are more mistake-prone is because they are trained and are supposed to be training to be lawyers, and have not received special education in legal translation.  Even a natural inclination for translation cannot replace the experience of translating documents for years. After all, by the time they become proficient or have enough experience to do a great job,  they will likely no longer be interns, young lawyers, or clerks, and a new batch of rookies will begin. This lack of experience by even the most gifted bilingual lawyers often leads to embarrassing and costly mistakes.

The Hieroglyphic text of the treaty inscribed on a temple wall in Karnak.

The Hieroglyphic text of the treaty inscribed on a temple wall in Karnak.

Indeed, the “next practice” is built on the understanding that there is a difference between a bilingual person who was educated in law and lawyers who focus on translating legal documents (such as at LinguistIt, where our team is made up and supervised by lawyers who have practiced law before specializing in translation). Legal translators need to quickly navigate not only legalese in two languages but make sure that the documents are readable and understandable, while retaining their intended meaning. Skill is required to recognize the reality that “every translation is an interpretation,” while at the same time making sure that linguistic interpretation does not deviate from the intentions of the original source. Being able to deftly navigate these consideration and save you, your business, or your firm from embarrassment or worse – requires great legal translation skills. And like in sports, these skills are the admixture of a discernible amount of talent, a deep knowledge of the fundamentals, and lots and lots of practice and experience. Put simply: with a major client, a big deal or a pending lawsuit – you want to have the advantage, so stop using the “best practices” and use the “next practice,” and call in the experts.

Next week, we will explore how LinguistIt not only presents an alternative to in-house translation but is also disrupting orthodoxies of the giant catch-all freelance translation agencies by employing lawyers who are also experienced translators. This allows them to ensure that their work is useful, accurate and customized to your needs. We will explain how moving from “best practices” to “next practices” will save your company or the lawyers in your firm aggravation and time that could otherwise be concentrated on your clients and your business.

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