Pitfalls of Legal Translation

Unfortunately due to the convoluted and internationally individual nature of law, legal translations face a number of unintentional traps that can produce problems and miss translations at every turn. Even a highly trained, experienced and knowledgeable translator will have a difficult time due to the structural and institutional differences between countries alone. Even two countries that speak the same cultural language, like two countries that speak English or two countries that speak Spanish, will have a hard time communicating between legal systems if those systems operate differently.

Take a moment and think of all the ways that different one country’s legal system can vary from another. While it’s possible that two countries utilized essentially the same legal structure and governmental institutions, this similitude is undeniably uncommon. Even countries that operate essentially the same are likely to have the same basic structures and institutions but with different laws governing how those institutions operate under the law.

There are also plenty of cases where one country features structures and institutions that simply don’t exist in the country they’re doing business with. Sometimes this is due to the fact that one country has done away with some of their shared structures and institutions, other times it’s due to the fact that one country just never had those structures and institutions in the first place.

All of these issues would be problematic enough if each country involved spoke the same cultural language, but it’s compounded by the fact that most countries operate under different primary languages. Even countries that nationally speak multiple languages might only have their laws written in a single language, which renders their bilingual nature largely irrelevant when it comes to legal translation.

Because law is such a precise and specialized language there will be times when the legal wording of one language simply has no equivalent in another language. This is true both when using the name of a structure or institution that doesn’t exist in both countries, but it also occurs when certain laws or legal practices don’t exist from one country to the next.