Thursday, July 9, 2009

Legal Translations - How Clear Are They (Lawyers) Conveying the Message to Their Clients?

While no translation service can be perfect, and just like any bridge between languages, there is always a chance for some miscommunication. One of the prime concerns in translation for a long time has been legal translation. Are lawyers able to convey what they truly mean to their clients? In any country's legal system, the key to winning any case is accurate and effective communication. It makes sense, given that the law is the written word and that lawmakers must use language to state decisions, make law, and defend or inform clients. Without proper communication, there cannot be a clear explanation between the lawyer and the client.

From international to the national court systems, there are concerns in regards to proper communication and what problems can appear from a lack of such. When dealing with a non-English-speaking defendant, lawyers should have a good, qualified interpreter, with experience in the law field as well as in translation and interpretation. Otherwise, there can be a serious cultural and linguistic divide that the lawyer cannot truly help the clients understand and overcome due to the lack of linguistic proficiency. After all, a good lawyer is one that takes the law seriously and learns the legal system to help clients. It is much more beneficial to find a good interpreter.

Some lawyers have made the mistake of relying on the relatives or friends of the client who may be bilingual, but have the likelihood of only interpreting to the client what they think the client needs to know. They can easily omit statements that are vital and integral to the judicial system in regards to their case. The simple fact is that when lawyers do not have the proper communicative resources at hand, there is no way for any legal case to be properly passed onto the client word for word. This can mean a mistrial or dismissal down the road, or put the lawyer and the client in an unfortunate situation later.

The fact is that lawyers face even more barriers with a foreign client than one that speaks their native language. For example, people who are speaking their own language are said to only remember 20% of the words they hear in a conversation, and that number gets worse when the topic is in regards to the legal documents they desperately will need for the case. If the lawyer does not have a proper and qualified interpreter, rest assured that people would remember less and make the job of the lawyer even more difficult. With a solid, qualified interpreter, lawyers can feel a little more at ease knowing that an interpreter should help a client feel more in control and less at a loss from the jargon. It reduces confusion immensely. Most of all, having a firm that will help clients who do not have English as their first languages shows a respect for the culture and will encourage clients to come to them.

Overall, the state of legal translations is not perfect, but unless you work with a lawyer who sees no need to have a proper, qualified interpreter, the confusion from a language barrier shouldn't be much of a problem.

Author Monica Castro
Translations Wave

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