Legal Translation Services in the US and Overseas

The eleventh-hour contract translation job just came in. Hurray. Finding a legal translation services provider is just what was missing on your already Herculean to-do list.

You google “legal translation services near me.” 


And there it is. A bucket of odd words pitching for your click across the screen: 


Legal Translation Services Google Search Result


How do you know which legal translation service you need?

No worries. Here’s a guide on legal translation services to help you out.


Gavels ready, everyone?


Pro tip lightbulbWhat you will learn:

  1. What makes legal document translations different from other translations
  2. Certain documents need legal translations. Others don’t.
  3. Legal translations and certified translations are not the same. You’ll learn which one to choose—and stop overpaying for rubber stamps you don’t need.
  4. Surprise: “certified” translators don’t exist in the US. You probably confused them with certified court interpreters.
  5. A certified translation doesn’t mean it has legal value. At least not in every country. There’s another step to make your translations legalized, as well.

quick links iconQuick links:

  1. What is legal translation?
  2. Why is legal translation important?
  3. What makes legal translation different from other translation services?
  4. Who can legally translate documents?
  5. ATA-certified translations
  6. The difference between legal translation and certified translation
  7. Who can certify a translation?
  8. Does a certified translation have legal value?
  9. How to legalize a translation overseas
  10. The bottom line
  11. How can we help with Legal Translation Services at LingPerfect?


Gavel and book legal

Legal translation deals with translating documents of legal nature

But—what defines the nature of a text? 

Are only contracts considered legal texts? 


In reality, legal documents cover a wide range of text types:


Legal documents for businesses

  1. Licensing agreements
  2. Legal Tax documents
  3. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights
  4. eDiscovery
  5. General contracts
  6. Articles of incorporation
  7. Partnership deeds
  8. Sales contracts
  9. Arbitration documents
  10. Terms and Conditions


Legal documents for private individuals

  1. Passports
  2. Driver’s licenses
  3. Adoption papers
  4. Birth certificates
  5. Marriage certificates
  6. Academic transcripts and diplomas
  7. Medical records
  8. Immigration papers


Global translation


Globalization stopped concerning only F500 companies a while ago. In 2021, even the tiniest e-Commerce platform deals with customers from all over the world. 

International trade is booming. And with it, your vulnerability to overseas legislation. The reason is quite simple.

Your legal documents have no legal value overseas.


Local legislators write up laws in their official language. So your English terms and conditions have no legal value in Colombia.




1. There is no “global” legal system


Sure, there’s the concept of International law.  And yes, it’s a set of conventions on trade, conflict, and human rights. 


But it won’t do the job for you.


Most legislation your business should abide by is country-specific because the law is culture-specific.

That’s why no two legal systems are the same.


How does this affect translation? 


Every translator must know how to translate the meaning from one language to another. But legal document translators’ jobs go much further. Instead of words, they must know how to translate legal systems.


2. Legal document translation is extremely subject-specific

The law regulates relationships between people and businesses. But terminology differs greatly between sectors.

Mergers and Acquisitions legislation will be knee-deep in finance, accounting, and due diligence terms.

Labor and Employment law, on the other hand, will contain little financial jargon. But it will be filled with terms around illness rights, trade unions, and safety.


3. Legal language is highly formulaic

Love it or hate it, legalese is alive and kicking. Any attempts to bring it closer to everyday language are laudable. But it’s not the legal translator’s job to do so. 


An example:

Eschatocol example


This formula is called the eschatocol—the closing protocol of a legal document.


There are ten different ways to make this sentence more reader-friendly. But if the translator changed the formula, it would be unacceptable. Or frowned upon, at the very least.

A legal translator’s job is to produce an accurate translation.

But at the same time, the translated text must comply with the legal document’s wording conventions.


4. The slightest legal translation error can burn a hole in your budget

A small punctuation error or mistranslated name can make the whole legal document lose legal value. Therefore, accuracy and knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the foreign country’s legal framework are a must. 

Document translation at work

You would think that all these intricacies would call for a world of certifications and degrees. 


While this might be the case in Spain, Argentina, and other countries, it doesn’t apply to the United States.


Here is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says on the matter:

There is currently no universal form of certification required of interpreters and translators in the United States, but there are a variety of different tests that workers can take to demonstrate proficiency.

That’s right. Anyone can have a go at translating legal documents. 

So what are these “different tests” the Bureau mentioned?


ATA-certified translations

The American Translators Association (ATA) is the largest association of translators in the US. 


Among other things, ATA also provides certifications for translators and agencies. ATA’s exams are demanding. So having your translation done by an ATA-certified translator adds a layer of confidence. 


Notwithstanding (excuse the legalese), there are two points to keep in mind.


  1. ATA certifies the translator’s proficiency of the language pair, not the area of expertise. So you can find a Spanish-to-English ATA-certified translator. But you won’t find a Spanish-to-English certified legal translator.
  2. There are only 15 language pairs that the ATA certifies. Looking for a Tamil to English ATA-certified translator? Good luck.


Summing it up, it means that

working with ATA-certified translators gives a layer of confidence. But to find reliable expert legal translators, you should look at something else. Their expertise.


Great, so we can put the concept of certified translations ad acta (sorry, legalese, again). 


Or can we?



Legal versus Certified translations icon

ATA-certified translations are not the same as certified translations in general. And they’re not a synonym of legal translations, either.


Legal translation

Legal translations involve the transferring of legal texts from one language to another. These can be 

  1. contracts 
  2. patents 
  3. certificates 
  4. eDiscovery 


and so on. 


In short, it’s the nature of the text that defines whether the document is a legal one. Not the presence of a rubber stamp.


Certified translation

A certified translation is any translation that bears a certificate attesting to the accuracy of the produced text. The documents requiring certification may be legal texts, but not only. 

Even scientific papers and product specs might need a certified translation.



Who can certify a translation?

Certified translation icon

The certification process varies from country to country.

In the US, a translation is certified by a translator’s affidavit, stating that: 

  1. the translator is competent to translate in the required language combination 
  2. the translation was done to the best of the translator’s knowledge, ability, and belief. 


In other countries, like many EU member states, only sworn translators can certify the translation. 


Sworn translators must have a valid degree and pass a certification process with the relevant authority. This can either be the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Spain) or the Courts (France and Germany). 



The short answer is: no. 

For the translation to get legal value, you must notarize it before the Notary Public.

However, Notaries don’t attest to the quality of the translation. They verify the translator’s identity. This way, the language expert can be held accountable for the translation produced.

Countries that use the system of sworn translators have a different process. The sworn translator’s signature is enough for the document to have legal value. So there’s no need to notarize them.


Legal translations abroad icon

Let’s say you notarized a translation in the US. How do you legalize it in another country? 


If the country has signed the Hague Convention

You can have it apostilled in the States. This will give the translation legal power in the other country, as well.


If the country is not part of the Hague Convention

You have two options.

  1. If the overseas country does not have “sworn translators,” you’ll have to have it notarized again.
  2. If the overseas country has “sworn translators”, you can hire one. On the upside, you’ll save the costs of an extra notarization. On the downside, it might take more time. Sworn translators usually require the original signed document to be sent to them beforehand.


So to legalize a translation in Italy, you can apostille it in the US. But the same wouldn’t work for Canada. The Canucks have not signed the HCCH treaty.



Article summary iconThe Bottom Line

The next time you’re looking for legal translation services, answer these four simple questions. It will take a moment of your time, but it will save you tons of back-and-forth with the translation agency. Most importantly, you’ll make sure you don’t pay for rubber stamps you don’t need.


  1. Is it a text of legal nature? 
  2. What type of legal document is it? A contract, terms and conditions? An academic transcript? Which subject-matter expertise do you need?
  3. Does it really require a certification? Or do you need legal translation experts only?
  4. Does the translation need to have legal value? If so, in which country? 





We translate in 150+ languages

We are an industry leader in legal translation services, specializing in:

  1. Intellectual property
  2. Patent translation & filings
  3. Trademark or service mark registrations
  4. Copyright 
  5. Entity formation and management
  6. Ownership documents, including transfer rules
  7. Business contracts
  8. Compliance


Full translation & localization package

We provide our customers with a wide range of translation and localization services

  1. Legal document translations
  2. Court interpreting
  3. Certified document translation services
  4. Notarized translations
  5. Sworn translations for foreign markets


What makes LingPerfect the best choice for your legal translation services  

We optimize your resources with Advanced Translation technologies

The legal discovery includes examining mostly non-responsive documents. Their translations must be accurate enough, but there is no need to use human translators to cull them.


Once you’ve identified potentially responsive documents, our expert translators refine the texts to ensure all information is available for the second-level review.


Professional Project Managers

Our team of 50+ full-time project managers works to deliver the top-quality service that you expect and deserve—within tight timelines. You get a dedicated PM who speaks your language and can answer all your questions.


Subject-specific Translators

Documents included within legal translation can come from all sorts of industries. They can contain specific or restricted terminology. Our network of 10,000+ translators worldwide gives us access to subject-specific translation experts. All our linguists have at least five years’ experience in industry-specific translations.


100% Confidentiality

To protect your confidential information, all LingPerfect translations sign and adhere to our Confidentiality Agreement. 


ATA Members

We are a member of the American Translators Association. By extension, we meet the guidelines set out in the Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices of the ATA.



Our proprietary QMS extracts non-visible information from e-Discovery materials. It then validates formatting consistency to maintain contextual cues from the original document. 

As the final step, every document must pass our strict quality testing before delivering it to you.


We are proud members of:

  1. Asian American Bar Association 
  2. International Practice Management Association 
  3. New York City Paralegal Association


Need more details or have specific needs?

Reach out to us via the form below.