Whether your law firm operates locally, or you deal with clients across the globe, the chances are that at some point, you’ll need to get documents translated; either on behalf of clients for official reasons, or for the international marketing of your own firm.
While there’s been a surge in free (or exceedingly cheap) computer assisted translation (CAT) tools, if you’re concerned with projecting a professional image, breaking into new global markets, or winning key clients, then you’ll need to use a human translator. Here’s why:
- Documents Can’t be Translated Word for Word
Anyone who’s ever studied a second language will tell you this; it’s almost impossible to translate a word without knowing the context, especially in English, where we have so many words with the same meaning.
People “run” in a park. They also “run” companies, and water “runs” out of a faucet. Therefore trying to translate the word “run” on its own without knowing the context of the whole sentence will throw up a myriad of outcomes. That’s just one example in thousands.
Here’s another. Without mentioning any names, I came across a medium-sized immigration law firm based in the US the other day. They operate in several countries and have a neat little drop down menu that lets you translate their site instantly, powered by (another nameless but very famous) search engine.
We all understand what “Lead Lawyers” means in English. But when you let a CAT tool loose on just those two little words in French and Spanish (and probably Arabic but I can’t read that) the translation throws up “Lawyers made out of lead” (the heavy metal).
- Your Reputation is at Stake
Needless to say, plowing into a foreign market presenting yourself as a firm of lawyers made of lead is less than desirable. I didn’t get any further into their site and I doubt that any potential Spanish or French speaking clients did either. After all, what kind of an image do they project like using terms like that?
A poorly or weakly translated version of your website is worse than getting your website translated at all. This is not something you can rely on machines for, especially if you want to present just as captivating a client pitch in your target language as your own tongue. Are foreign language speaking clients going to spend less money with you? Probably not. So why are you treating them like an afterthought?
- It’s Actually Cheaper in The Long Term
Have you ever been presented with a brief written by an intern and had to sift through pages and pages with red ink, crossing out, starting again, questioning, and in the end wishing that you’d just done it yourself? Sure, everyone has to start somewhere but now you’ve spent their time, your time, and the brief is still not ready.
Can you see my point here? The same applies with a poorly translated document. If you’re going to rely on free software for your translations, then you’re going to need them to be checked and edited before sending back to clients. And that means going through with a lot of red pen. The end result? It would have been cheaper using a human translator. Let’s not even get into the possibility of losing a million-dollar client because of an unintentionally insulting typo in an email.
- Humans Can Make Judgment Calls
Give your translation to a human and they will make judgment calls without turning you back documents with blank spaces or mistranslations. It could be hard-to-read handwriting or frequently used terms, a bad quality photocopy or an in-house style, but humans use critical thinking to make an educated guess and complete the work.
While some CAT tools are getting more intelligent and provide the option to create translation memories for ongoing projects, there’s still too much room for error. And let’s face it, a computer’s not going to pick up the phone and call you if they really can’t read something.
- Humans Can Specialize in Your Field
Translators aren’t just people with a flair for languages (although that helps). Most also have sub-specialties and many within legal translation, immigration law, family law, and so on. A human translator with legal training and experience can convey your message in a heartbeat with the same sincerity and integrity as you would yourself. So don’t cut corners when it comes to your translations; make sure you get them done by humans.
Christina Comben is a freelance copywriter specializing in B2B website content, marketing materials, article writing, and blogging. Multilingual and qualified to MBA level, Christina has produced investor guides and economic reports in developing countries for Spanish newspaper ABC and currently works as Content Manager at online language services provider Day Translations.
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