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ISO 20771:2020 – Elevating Legal Translation Standards

The ISO 20771:2020 standard, titled “Legal translation — Requirements,” specifies the requirements for legal translation services. This document focuses on the competencies and qualifications of legal translators, revisers, and reviewers and the best practices and processes that directly affect the quality and delivery of legal translation services. It covers core processes, resources, confidentiality, professional development requirements, training, and other aspects relevant to legal translation services provided by individual translators.

The main phases of the legal translation process according to ISO 20771:2020 include:

Translation Process

Responsibility of the Legal Translator

Under ISO 20771:2020, the responsibility of the legal translator is primarily focused on ensuring accurate and appropriate translation of legal documents. This involves a deep understanding of the relevant legal systems and terminology in both the source and target languages. The translator must faithfully convey the original document’s content, style, and intent while also considering the cultural and legal nuances. They are required to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of the information, adhering to ethical standards. The translator should possess the necessary qualifications and competence, including an understanding of legal concepts and terminologies. They must also acknowledge their limitations, seeking assistance or clarification when needed. This role demands high professionalism and responsibility, as legal translations often have significant implications and require precision and reliability.

Cooperation with Other Parties

Under ISO 20771:2020, cooperation with other parties in legal translation is essential for ensuring accuracy and contextual appropriateness. This involves the legal translator engaging with clients, revisers, reviewers, and subject matter experts. Such collaboration is crucial for clarifying any ambiguities, confirming the use of correct legal terminology, and understanding the specific context and purpose of the legal document. Effective communication with these parties is key to addressing the unique requirements and nuances of the legal systems and cultures involved in the translation. This cooperative approach is vital for achieving a high-quality, accurate translation that accurately reflects the source material in the target language. It underscores the importance of teamwork and shared expertise in maintaining the integrity and precision necessary in legal translation.

Legal Translation Service-Related Issues

In ISO 20771:2020, “Legal Translation Service Related Issues” refer to the comprehensive set of considerations and practices that ensure the delivery of high-quality legal translation services. This encompasses the initial agreement and service specification, where the translator and client define the project’s scope, objectives, and specific requirements. Establishing clear parameters regarding deadlines, confidentiality, and any special requirements relevant to the legal document is crucial.

Project preparation is vital, involving gathering necessary resources and reference materials and understanding the legal contexts of both the source and target texts. This stage may include research into legal terminologies and concepts pertinent to the translated documents.

The translation phase is central to the service, requiring the translator to apply their legal expertise and linguistic skills to accurately and appropriately render the document into the target language. This process must adhere to the agreed specifications, ensuring the translation maintains the integrity and intent of the original content.


Under ISO 20771:2020, the “Check” phase in legal translation is a critical step where the translator conducts a thorough examination of the translated (target language) content against the original (source language) content. This process involves a detailed comparison to ensure the translation accurately reflects the source text’s content, meaning, style, and legal terminology. The translator scrutinizes the document for any discrepancies, errors, or omissions. This step is essential for verifying that the translation maintains the integrity and intent of the original text and that it is appropriate for the specific legal context and purpose for which it is intended. The check phase is a fundamental part of the quality control process in legal translation, ensuring the reliability and accuracy of the translated document, which is crucial given the often sensitive and consequential nature of legal texts.

Revision and Review

Under ISO 20771:2020, “Revision and Review” are crucial quality control steps in the legal translation process. Revision involves a bilingual examination of the translation against the original text. A reviser, a professional other than the translator, typically does this. The reviser checks for content, terminology, and style accuracy, ensuring the translation is faithful to the source and suitable for its intended purpose. On the other hand, the review is a monolingual examination of the translated document, often conducted by a legal expert or a reviewer proficient in the target language. This step focuses on verifying the translation’s factual correctness, language use, and overall coherence, ensuring it meets the required standards and serves its intended legal function. Both revision and review are integral to maintaining the high quality and precision necessary in legal translations, addressing different aspects of the translation to ensure its effectiveness and accuracy.

Verification and Correction 

In ISO 20771:2020, “Verification and Correction” are key stages in the legal translation process, focusing on ensuring the accuracy and appropriateness of the translated document. Verification involves a thorough examination to confirm that the translation meets all the specified requirements and accurately reflects the source text. This step is crucial for validating the correctness of legal terms, phrases, and the overall context. It ensures that the translation is linguistically accurate, legally appropriate, and coherent.

Correction follows verification and involves making necessary adjustments to the translated text. This could include rectifying errors, inconsistencies, or omissions identified during the verification process. Corrections are made to align the translation more closely with the source text and the document’s intended purpose. This stage is vital for refining the translation, ensuring it achieves the highest possible accuracy and reliability, which is essential in legal translation due to the potential implications of inaccuracies.

Signing Off and Record-Keeping

Under ISO 20771:2020, “Signing Off and Record Keeping” are final yet crucial steps in the legal translation process. Signing off is the formal acknowledgement by the translator or the translation service provider that the translation project has been completed and that the translated document meets all the specified requirements, including accuracy, appropriateness, and adherence to the agreed-upon terms. This act signifies the translator’s confidence in the quality and reliability of the translation.

On the other hand, record keeping involves maintaining comprehensive records of the translation project. This includes documentation of the original source text, the final translated version, details of the revision and review processes, any feedback or corrections made, and communication records with the client. Effective record-keeping is essential for accountability, future reference, and in case any disputes or queries arise regarding the translation. It ensures transparency in the translation process and contributes to maintaining high standards of professional practice in legal translation.

Authorized Certification

In ISO 20771:2020, “Authorized Certification” refers to a formal process where the legal translation is officially certified for its accuracy and adherence to the source material. This certification is typically provided by the translator or a recognized authority, affirming that the translation has been conducted per the standards and requirements set out in ISO 20771. The certification process often includes the translator or certifying body attaching a statement or seal to the translated document, which verifies the translation’s authenticity, accuracy, and completeness. This step is particularly important for legal documents to be used in formal settings or legal proceedings, where certified translations are often required. The authorized certification provides an additional layer of validation and trust, ensuring that the translated document is a true and faithful representation of the original and is suitable for its intended legal use.

Feedback and Final Steps

Under ISO 20771:2020, “Feedback and Final Steps” in the legal translation process involve the finalization and evaluation stages of the translation project. After the translation, revision, review, and any necessary certification are completed, feedback is sought from relevant parties, which may include the client, legal experts, or other stakeholders. This feedback is crucial for assessing the quality and effectiveness of the translation, ensuring it meets the specific needs and expectations of the client and adheres to the legal requirements of the target context.

The final steps include incorporating any feedback received and making adjustments or corrections as necessary to refine the translation. This stage is essential for ensuring the highest quality and accuracy of the final document. Once all adjustments are made, the translation project is concluded, often with the delivery of the final translated document to the client. These steps ensure the translation meets professional standards and fulfils its intended legal purpose.

Complaints, Individual Responsibility, and Corrective Action

In ISO 20771:2020, the “Complaints, Individual Responsibility, and Corrective Action” sections address the mechanisms for handling dissatisfaction and errors in legal translation services. Complaints must be taken seriously, with a structured process for clients to express concerns about the translation. The individual responsibility of the translator or translation service provider is emphasized, highlighting the need for accountability in their work. This includes acknowledging any mistakes and taking responsibility for the quality of the translation.

Corrective action is a paramount component, where steps are taken to rectify any identified issues or errors in the translation. This involves reviewing the translation process, identifying the root causes of the problem, and implementing measures to preclude similar issues in the future. The focus is on continuous improvement, ensuring that lessons are learned from shortcomings and applied to enhance the quality and reliability of future translations. This approach underlines the commitment to maintaining high standards in legal translation services.

How can law firms benefit from working with ISO 20771:2020 compliant translators and agencies?

Law firms can significantly benefit from cooperating with translators and translation agencies compliant with ISO 20771:2020, as this standard ensures high-quality, accurate legal translations, which are crucial in the legal field. Key benefits include:

1. Accuracy and Reliability: ISO 20771:2020 sets stringent requirements for accuracy in legal translations. Law firms can trust that the translated documents accurately reflect the source material, reducing the risk of misinterpretation or legal discrepancies due to translation errors.

2. Professional Expertise: Translators under this standard must have specific legal translation competencies and knowledge. This expertise ensures that translations are linguistically correct and appropriate in the legal context, respecting the nuances of legal terminology and concepts.

3. Confidentiality and Security: The standard mandates strict confidentiality and data security measures crucial for handling sensitive legal documents. Law firms can be assured of their documents’ secure handling and privacy.

4. Consistency: Compliance with ISO 20771:2020 guarantees consistency in translation quality and processes, which is vital for law firms dealing with multi-language documents in complex legal cases.

5. Accountability and Professionalism: The standard emphasizes individual responsibility and corrective actions, meaning law firms can expect high professionalism and accountability from translators and agencies.

6. Legal Suitability: Translators and agencies adhering to this standard are adept at understanding the specific requirements of legal documents, ensuring translations are suitable for their intended legal purpose, whether it’s litigation, contracts, or compliance documentation.

7. Risk Mitigation: Accurate and professionally addressed legal translations reduce the risk of legal challenges or disputes caused by poor translations, protecting the law firm and its clients from potential legal vulnerabilities.

In summary, partnering with ISO 20771:2020 compliant translators and agencies furnishes law firms with the assurance of quality, expertise, and professionalism, which are essential in the legal domain where the stakes are high and accuracy is paramount.

Further Reading

  1. ISO 20771:2020 Legal Translation Requirements

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