Yes, counsel, you do have to translate that thing—at least, if you’re sending it to a non-English-speaking country.  There are a couple that don’t require translation, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still necessary.  [Click here to see why.]

That said, getting a translation is not as simple as a Google search to find a guy who speaks Chinese.  Why?  A whole bunch of reasons—all of them potentially fatal to your ultimate goal, which is a check that your client can cash.  Always, always, always, address these issues with your translator, and if s/he doesn’t know what you’re talking about, find a different translator.

We discuss these issues in a two-part series.  Part 1 is here, and details localization and some peculiar differences among languages with the same name.


Every page, every word, every claim that is handed to the defendant should be formatted to look like the original (the “source document”).  Some examples:

  • The text on page 12 of the complaint should be reflected entirely on page 12 of the translation.
  • If the summons bears a stamp from the 324th Circuit Court for the Middle District of Galveston, and that stamp includes the English phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas” in the upper right hand corner, then your translator should include a reference to the stamp and translate “Don’t Mess With Texas” into the target language, situated in the upper right hand corner.*
  • If handwritten script in an exhibit (yes, those have to be translated as well) is illegible, even in English, then the translator just needs to indicate that the particular text is illegible.  Foreign judges are smart.  They get it.  But if the translator doesn’t address the issue, those foreign judges may rightly assume the questionable text is problematic, rather than illegible.


Ten bucks a page is not a deal.  It is a guarantee that the translator is clueless, about either the linguistics or about running his business.  In either case, you could be headed for disaster if you just take the low bid without considering the totality of circumstances.

Most translators price by the word.  If they price by the page, then somebody is losing out– either you’re paying far more than you should, or they’re underbidding the project in a vacuum– in which case see my comment above about cluelessness.

Handy tip: if you send them documents in Word (the Microsoft format), odds are they’ll give you a lower rate per word, because it makes their life a whole bunch easier.


SNOWThe native tribes of Alaska and northern Canada, if you believe the urban myth, have a hundred words for snow, and each one of them refers to a different type of snow on the dry-wet scale (X-axis) and the light-heavy scale (Y-axis).

But let’s say your complaint deals with a defendant’s use of a patented chemical in paint.  It makes for vivid blues and greens and reds and yellows… but how do you translate the shades of blue?

Azure.  Sapphire.  Turquoise.  Powder blue, baby blue, sky blue, Royal Blue (that would point to the 2015 World Series Champions, thank you), navy blue, midnight blue…

In short, context is key, so don’t be surprised if your translator calls you for clarification on a word that could go six different ways when it morphs into French.


Above all, don’t mess around with this subject, and don’t cheap out on it.  Just don’t.  This is the easiest variable in all of litigation to disaster-proof, and it’s the hardest to explain away when your client asks why he just lost his case.  Hire a reputable company with a track record (or at least a webpage, for crying out loud!), preferably one that hires linguists with the appropriate vocabulary expertise (legal, scientific/engineering, medical, cultural).  Don’t assign the job to Timmy the Mailroom Intern because he spent a semester in Paris, and for crying out loud, DON’T USE GOOGLE TRANSLATE.

Just because you can get a low-cost translation doesn’t mean you should.

Roy Perez, Pitmaster at Kreuz Market
Roy Perez, Pitmaster at Kreuz Market

* In Part 1, I mentioned that Texas Barbecue eschews pork, and that fact makes it automatically inferior to all other forms.  I now stand corrected, because the legendary Kreuz Market has brought swine to Lockhart. The word magnificent doesn’t begin to describe it.