The costs of translation for a law firm and its clients are comprised not only in the per-word fee charged by most translation companies, but also the billable time spent by legal staff managing and reviewing translations (including billable time foregone for other, more substantive, legal work). Legal translation is an expensive service, but its total costs will be even higher if they are poorly managed. Below is a number of tips on managing such costs.
Choose your legal translation service vendor well in advance
Commencing a search for a legal translation service with a looming deadline may cause translation costs to skyrocket:
- The responsible employee may spend hours selecting a legal translation service and comparing various quotes instead of doing substantive work for the project; any savings from comparing translation deals will be offset by the time spent on the exercise;
- Many translation services may not be available on short notice, and those that are may charge higher “rush” rates;
- The quality and consistency of translations produced in a rush may be poor and may require further (scarce) time to fix and harmonise for intended use.
Solution: Select one or more translation service providers as soon as the need for translation becomes known and agree clear and transparent pricing. Allow the translation service provider maximum time, while also factoring in the time needed to verify the translation and fix any issues if needed.
Identify the kind of translation you need
By default, good legal translation providers will seek to send lawyers the best possible translation, i.e. one that is proofread and edited by at least two people and formatted to resemble perfectly the source document. These services cost time and money. However, they are not always necessary.
Some translations may be needed for purely internal purposes (such as consultation with colleagues from a different jurisdiction), or for client information. Other documents may need to be translated as part of legal and factual research, but will not necessarily be used in official proceedings. Major savings can be made on those translations by specifying a lower service level, for instance:
- Omitting extra proofreading and editing;
- Using simplified formatting;
- Omitting translations of irrelevant details, such as letterheads, address data, web-addresses and other non-substantive text;
- Permitting the use of short defined terms to translate lengthy and complex official titles, e.g. use “[ECJ]” for “Court of Justice of the European Union”.
- If the necessary service levels for various types of documents are agreed with the legal translation provider in advance, this may lead to significant savings.
Solution: Agree at least two different service levels with the translation service provider in advance and obtain discounts for the lower service levels. Specify the service level required for each source document sent to translation.
Communication is key
Large translation projects will often involve different linguists, who will not always have the opportunity to coordinate their terminology, style and formatting. Billable time may therefore be needed to harmonise the translations on the law firm’s side.
Furthermore, translators may be unfamiliar with the subject matter of the source documents and will need additional time for the necessary research unless they were provided with a glossary and clear explanations in advance.
Where both accuracy and consistency are important, but time is limited, it is crucial that:
- The legal translation service has a glossary of terminology that needs to be consistent across the project;
- Any other client requirements (e.g. on formatting) are clearly communicated to the translation service provider;
- The lawyer managing translations is open to answer any questions that the translators may have regarding the meaning or legal significance of any source texts.
Solution: Set up clear lines of communication with the legal translation service, provide them with clear instructions and glossaries, and be open to any questions that the translators may have.