Law – A Translator’s Wonderland

Jumping into the rabbit hole of legal texts can make translators feel like Alice in Wonderland.

Court decisions, Sales Agreements, Divorce Decrees, Affidavits, Promissory Notes, Lease Agreements, M&As, they all are inherently tricky and sometimes hard to understand even for attorneys. This is mainly due to legal terms, intertwined structures and what is known as legalese.

Legalese is like the Red Queen in the land of law, being one of the major obstacles for intelligibility. Its soldiers are verbosity, archaic words, and madly long and complex sentences.

Some examples of these soldiers are the following:

Verbosity: “Client may terminate the Agreement if control of Service Provider is to be transferred (wh

ether directly or indirectly, or in a single transaction or series of related transactions), or all or substantially all of the assets or business of Service Provider are to be acquired by any organization.…” This sentence can actually be expressed in a simpler way “Client may terminate the Agreement if Material change to ownership of Service Provider is imminent.”

Archaisms/Latinisms: “the party meets its burden of making a prima facie case that a contract existed” – instead of using “on a general/preliminary basis”.

Long sentences:Mary Dowe, who is hereinafter referred as the “Client”, needed a Spanish translation, which is hereinafter referred to as the “Service”, and wrote to Baquero Translations, which is hereinafter referred to as the “Translation Provider”, and the Translation Provider told the Client that they will fulfill the Service by the expiration of one (1) day, provided that (i) the agreed payment is carried out by the Client, and if the Client needed DTP services, which is hereinafter referred as “Design Services”, the Translation Provider commit itself to complete fulfillment of the Design Services by the expiration of the same duration, which is one (1) day, in the sole and unfettered discretion of the Translation Provider to complete the satisfaction of the Client.” – Its plain form would be “Mary Dowe needed a Spanish translation and wrote to Baquero Translations. BT told her that they will translate it and have it for the next day in exchange of the agreed payment. If she needed DTP services, they could provide it within the same day”

Even though many people are now trying to overthrow this Red queen, legal jargon is in the realm of law texts. Its reign started many centuries ago; thus, law reference material—the majority being old— is populated with legalese. Furthermore, universities use these documents, which made them a great input of legalese to the “lawyers-to-be” during the whole course of studies.

As with most texts, a professional translator should first drink the potion to plunge into this new world and unveil the meaning and intention behind each of these intricate legal statements. They need to convert all the “above mentioned” into plain language; and then, create a new text in the target language being as accurate, as unambiguous, or as intentionally vague as the original author intended it to be, with exactly the same verbosity and solemn style as the original. This is a mad tea party, from which only trained and experienced translators can return.

Having extensive experience in legal translations and subject matter expert translators, editors, and reviewers, BT’s team is as mad as a hatter and as brave as Alice to help you overcome this challenge.

By: Andrea Chetti