“Wet ink”: exactly what you think it means.  (I like fountain pens.  They make my scribbly handwriting look almost elegant.)

An interesting quandary popped up a few weeks ago.  My client (all of my clients are fellow lawyers) told me that he’d just received the translations of the documents he needed to serve in China, and was about ready to file them with the court.

I was a bit puzzled.  What do you mean?  File the translations with the court?

“Well, yeah,” he replied.  “You told me I needed a wet ink* signature on the summons.  I needed the translation so the clerk could sign it.”

My response:  Yes, the clerk needs to sign the summons itself.  Not the translation.

Translations are required– or at least, necessary– for service in just about every country in the world that wasn’t once a British colony.  It’s even necessary in one jurisdiction that was once a British colony (je te regarde, Québec!).  But the translation is only sent so that the foreign government and the defendant know what the operative English documents say.  The translated copies are not operative in and of themselves.  As such, they don’t have to be filed with the venue court in the United States, and they don’t need to carry the same signatures & stamps as the originals.  They just need to tell a foreign reader what the stamps say.

In short, translate after you have everything filed.

Think of it this way– if the documents aren’t ready to hand to a process server in Pennsylvania or Idaho, they aren’t ready to hand to a translator.  They also aren’t ready to hand to someone like me for submission of a Hague Request.

Now, to be sure, there are a whole bunch of issues to keep in mind when selecting the right linguist.  There are many out there, both good and bad, so don’t just go for the low bid, because it really could come back to haunt you.  Keeping translation costs down is a challenge, but that’s under your control, Mr. or Ms. Litigator– not the translation provider.

Regardless, the timing of the translation is exceedingly straightforward: do it after you have the documents assembled, as if the defendant is in Pennsylvania or Idaho.  Everything that would be handed to a defendant here at home must be handed to a defendant in a foreign country– and if translation is necessary, every page, every word, and every text-bearing image must be formatted in the foreign language.

* Some Central Authorities in the Far East– especially in India & China– are skeptical of laser print copies of service documents.  They don’t necessarily view those copies as authoritative or as “bearing the imprimatur of the court.”  I think that’s with pretty good reason, frankly– anybody can print a document from PACER if they have access, so a little skepticism is warranted.  Still, the easiest way to overcome the skepticism is to have the court issue a summons over a “wet ink” signature, preferably with a stamp or embosser or a pretty red ribbon like they still have in some places.

This means the clerk has to actually pick up a pen (gasp!) and sign her/his name to the document.  This also means the clerk will look at you like you have three heads (it’s 2018, counsel– are you nuts?).  Just explain that, because the documents are going to a foreign country, they have to imagine it’s 1978 again.  Or point them to this blog.