Edward Orde, via Wikimedia Commons.

<— Unless this thing used to fly over the jurisdiction where you’re serving, odds are pretty high that you’ll have to translate in order to satisfy the requirements of the destination jurisdiction under the Hague Service Convention.  In most places, there’s no getting around it, even if your defendant was born in Chicago and taught Shakespeare for thirty years before settling in the Kobe Prefecture or a quaint village just outside Palermo.  If you intend to serve him, foreign authorities will require a translation.

Knowing this, many litigators and their support teams just run off to the Googz* and pluck a few ads from atop the search engine results.

They ask, “hey, what would you charge to translate my documents into (language)?”… and responses come back pretty quickly.

If the translators don’t ask for the specific documents but instead send you a price-per-page response, run.  Run away like your hair is on fire, because in that sort of fee structure, somebody loses, and I promise you, it’s not the translator– unless they’re incompetent (which raises a completely different battery of concerns).  Reputable, competent translation providers may ballpark costs for you, but they should always — always— come back with “I can’t give you a specific figure until I have the actual documents themselves.”  So send them the PDFs and let them do their job.**

More importantly, though, even if the numbers are legitimate (ie: priced by the word), don’t just focus on the low bid.  There are a whole bunch of other factors involved– not the least of which is speed, which is balanced by accuracy, thorough attention to detail, proper formatting, and ultimately… competence in legal translation.  You might have a great offer from a linguist who claims native proficiency in (insert language here), but if that linguist isn’t proficient with legal vocabulary specifically, you’re sunk.  It’s a bit like asking me to represent you on a felony assault charge (we’ve all gotten that late-night phone call from Aunt Edna, begging us to bail out cousin Eddie… she was grumpy when I had to refer her to a friend who would charge her).

Of course, market realities dictate that attorneys rein in the costs of litigation– clients are no longer willing to just fork over a few thousand dollars just because their lawyer says it’s necessary.***  But on this issue, the best way to keep costs down is by limiting the breadth of what needs to be translated in the first place (see my series on doing that– part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here).

Oh, and be wary of the boast “we’re a certified translation provider!”  (Oh, really?  Who certified you?)

There’s no such thing– it’s completely made up.  Sure, there are certified translations, the quality of which is attested to by the provider, but not certified providers.  (See clarification on this thought below.)

You’ve got to beware.  (Cue Buffalo Springfield…)

* I strongly contend that the best place to start any legal research project is Google.  Conversely, the worst possible thing you can use for translation of service documents is Google Translate.  It’s not an easy way to rein in costs– it’s just stupid.  Sorry, folks– there’s no gentle, diplomatic way to say it.  I love Google Translate, and I use it all the time, but only to get a good sense of what a foreign text says or to find a rough translation into a foreign language (it’s especially handy at a gelato stand in Rome or a beer garden in Munich).  It should NEVER be used to generate translations for submission to a judicial authority.

** Don’t get all cagey if you’re under seal– just have the vendor sign a confidentiality agreement that binds them to the seal.  It’s not a violation– revelation is absolutely necessary if you’re going to get this stuff served properly.  They can’t translate redactions, so open the books.

*** Were clients ever willing to do that?

Clarification, prompted by an email from a reader:  the American Translators Association (ATA) does certify its members and their work– and I only work with ATA member providers– but that does not mean translators who don’t join the guild aren’t competent.  It’s critical to note that a trade association does not carry the imprimatur of a government agency or a court.  While an ATA certification undoubtedly carries some probative value if the work’s quality is questioned, it does not carry official sanction.  When I question a translator’s certification, I’m asking about a legal authority.  Hint: there is none.  I have the same criticism about so-called certified mediators in Missouri.  “Oh really?  Who certified you?”  There is no legal authority that confers certification on mediators here.  We may be qualified under Rule 17, but the only certification we can achieve is from a trade association, and that carries scant weight in a court proceeding.

The ATA is sort of like the American Bar Association… persuasive, sure, but certainly not binding.