The Importance of Legal Proofreaders in Foreign Translations

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By Marcela Arbelaez Arango,

The highest calling of a translation agency is being asked to translate foreign-language legal documents. The highly refined and specialized use of terminology in the U.S. legal system requires that legal translations must be meticulous.  Given that most translators are not practicing attorneys, it could be considered malpractice for a translation agency not to use a trained lawyer to review the final work product to assure that all legal terms and concepts from the source language have been accurately rendered into modern legal parlance.

 Although many countries try to emulate the U.S. legal system, there is a wide range of substantive laws and variations in court procedure that make it challenging to convert the legal doctrines and rationales from a foreign-court document into modern-day legalese.

 Although Luxembourg may recognize derivative actions, the nuances of standing may be different than those under Delaware corporate law. Although Venezuela may recognize condominium ownership of real property, it may not use the word condominium. Even though France may recognize various types of home ownership that are similar to those under Florida law, they may not call it “JTWROS” or “tenants by the entireties.”

Enter the legal proofreader.

A trained legal proofreader, preferably one who is also an experienced lawyer in the target language, is imperative to ensure that legal terms of art are accurately conveyed to the attorneys, judges and jurors who will expect the style of writing to be concise, journalistic, internally consistent, logical, familiar-sounding and above all else accurate. Even slight differences in meaning can affect the outcome of the entire case.

 Agencies that are translating foreign-language legal document for use in U.S. legal proceedings are practically committing malpractice if they are not using proofreaders who are trained attorneys in the target language, preferably with experience in the particular legal field, to provide a fundamental last layer of defense and assure that nothing is lost in translation.

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 The proofreader’s job is not to correct the translation but to note possible misinterpretations, especially false cognates (words that sound similar in both languages but do not necessarily mean the same thing). In French, “avertissement’ may seem similar to advertisement. However, “un avertissement” is a warning or caution, from the verb “avertir,’ or warn. An advertisement is “une publicite,” “une reclame” or “un spot publicitaire.” In Spanish, for example, “una sentencia” does refer to a sentence in legal terms, as in a sentencing or handing down a sentence. When referring to a sentence as in language or grammar, it’s “la frase,” which could also be phrase, or “la oracion,” which means sentence or clause, and sometimes prayer.

 Law firms representing parties to a litigation proceeding are often confronted with boxes of foreign-language documents and gigabytes of electronically stored information. A professional translation agency, which uses modern software to conduct keyword searches in the source language and which maintains a glossary of the main foreign words, is critical to an economically efficient use of legal translation services. Otherwise, law firms wind up paying costly, time-consuming and unnecessary translations of irrelevant materials.

Marcela Arbelaez is CEO and Managing Partner of Lingua Franca Legal Solutions and Lingua Franca Translations (LF Translations). Ms. Arbeláez is voting member of ATA, member of South Florida District Export Council and Co-Chair of the Consular and Trade Committee at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.