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How Long Does Legal Translation Take?

How long legal translation takes depends on a number of factors, but the text type, language combination and translator’s domain-specific knowledge are the main aspects.

by Robert Conniff

Customers often ask us how long legal translation will take. That depends on a number of factors, but the text type, language combination, and translator’s domain-specific knowledge are the main aspects.

Legal translation is a time-consuming undertaking, taking up around 60% of the Directorate-General for Translation’s (DGT) workload. High standards are only met when thorough work is carried out. Translators, in addition to being linguists, researchers, terminologists, and proofreaders, are professional document producers like any other. Therefore, these variables should be factored into the time that legal translation takes, whether non-technical or technical.

If non-technical, which may be in the form of administrative documents or letters, the process will be much quicker due to the amount of general vocabulary employed and the intended purpose of the text. Furthermore, this is related to the DGT’s ‘Fitness for purpose’ principle, which takes into account the text type’s intended usage. The translator may decide to use glossaries to ensure the consistency of their terminology. Contrastingly, the translator will no doubt have to strike a balance between the registers they use due to this combination of text types.

Technical translation may consist in the form of legal acts and, is much more commonplace. Despite the fact that the DGT, the European Commission’s in-house translation service, spends more than €330m (£277m) on translation as a whole, the difficulty lies in trying to unite the legal terminology of countries that are socially and culturally divided. The European Commission has made increasing efforts to harmonize terminology in an attempt to standardize translation. The technical translator devotes a lot more of his time researching reference material, validating the correct usage of terminology, and attempting to encapsulate non-equivalence between legal systems, such as the problem of translating the word ‘Law’ into Chinese, by using strict legal equivalence in the same manner as the DGT.

The duration of legal translation largely depends on the document and language that the translator is confronted with. Wolfestone uses legal specialists who are accustomed to the field they translate in and, capable of translating more than 2000 words a day. We live in a world that requires instantaneous turn-around times, all delivered to a high standard within the set deadline. More words can be produced than 2,000 a day. However, if the quality is important, allowing for more time leads to better results.

Let us know what you think.

Translators: Do you think the DGT is doing everything it can to simplify the whole process behind legal translation?

Legal Professionals: What’s more important to you, time or quality?

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