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Book Review: Legal Translation Outsourced (J. R. Scott)

13 August 2019 - by Helene Walters-Steinberg

Juliette Scott’s Legal Translation Outsourced serves as a bridge between practitioners of legal translation and research into language and law. It offers an analysis of the key risks and constraints for commercial legal translation and also puts forth original theoretical models to assist legal translators and other stakeholders.

Although the field of legal translation itself is quite vast, legal translators often specialise in specific areas (such as corporate documents, financial-legal documents, notarial documents, court-related documents, insurance documents, legislation, certificates or patents). Legal translators need to be familiar with the subject matter, which can be highly technical, while also mastering information technology (such as CAT tools or electronic corpora) and possessing intercultural competencies.  Legal documents often follow codified rules of writing and presentation, with which legal translators need to be familiar in order to ensure that their translation meets the genre conventions that the readers expect to see. 

Scott mentions the use of electronic corpora several times in this book. Although most translators are familiar with CAT tools (Computer-Assisted-Translation), the use of electronic corpora is not yet widespread. Scott argues that electronic corpora could help legal translators solve issues such as collocations (e.g. whether to use “hold harmless from” or “hold harmless against”), therefore making the target text more acceptable to its intended audience.

One of the issues facing legal translation is that the translators are often not in direct contact with the commissioners of the translation. As a result, they are not always aware of the expectations they need to meet. Translations should always be fit for purpose, but if the translator is not aware of that purpose they may struggle to make certain linguistical and textual decisions. However, if the translator has been correctly briefed, then this brief can be used to assess the quality of the final translation.  According to the Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation  published by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the key elements a translator must be aware of are the target audience, the purpose, the style relevance and reference materials. Logistical constraints such as the amount of time allocated for the translation task, the size of the budget (which may determine the extent of revision and proofreading) and file formats must also be taken into account.

After analysing past research on translation briefs as well as some of the guidelines published by the British Council and the European Union, Scott provides her own preliminary list of legal translation brief components:

  •          Intended purpose of source and target texts
  •          Genre of source and target texts
  •          Legal status of source and target texts
  •          Reference material
  •      Legal systems and laws governing the source and target texts
  •          End-user of target text.

She also suggests using the words “document for translation” (instead of “source text”) and “translated text” (instead of “target text”) to make things clearer to clients who are not necessarily aware of the jargon used by translators.

The next part of the book focuses on the results of an in-depth survey she sent to lawyers and translation agencies operating in the legal field. The detailed analysis provided allows her to refine the preliminary list of translation brief components and put forward a legal translation brief. This comprehensive brief allows translators to obtain all the information they need to provide a high-quality translation that is fit-for-purpose. I would highly encourage colleagues working in the field of legal translation to read this book and to develop their own translation brief based on her model.

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