Law comparison

Looking up a word in a legal dictionary is the first thing that springs to mind when considering legal translations.
Unfortunately, it is not that easy.
There are a number of legal dictionaries in English and Dutch, but they do not alwyas fit the bill.
Sometimes a word is not to be found or the dictionary is 'one way' only.
Furthermore, it is not always clear what the starting point of the dictionary has been: which considerations underlie the solutions found?

Whatever source a legal translator consults, he/she will always have to double-check it.
This may entail looking into a single language dictionary or ocnsulting a legal handbook on the subject.
Keyword here is law comparison.
The translator will have to look for a term in the in the target language that has the same meaning.
This requires knowledge of both legal systems. And this is pre-eminently the work cof a lawyer/translator.
The starting point however, remains the original which gives a description of a legal situation governed by by a certain law system.
So a translation of a contract subject to Dutch law cannot use common law terms arbitrarily if they do not convey the meaning of the original.
An example of this is toerekenbare tekortkoming, which cannot be translated as breach of contract, given the specific meaning of this concept in Dutch law.
Sometimes it is better to give a more literal translation such as attributable non-performance as this is a correct reflection of the Dutch law concept.
Breach of contract can then be used as a translaton of wanprestatie.
This method is also the starting point of Introduction into legal English for Dutch students, a book recently published by Kluwer.
The book was written by Antoinette Dop, lawyer linguist and owner of AD lexis. 

Universiteit Bologna


The logo of the University of Bologna (Italy), the oldest university in the world.
Law was also taught here, which primarily meant Roman law.
Incidentally, Roman law can be useful for today's translators especially when it concerns property law
where the differences between civil law and common law are substantial
are substantial. This makes law comparison, with the aim of finding an equivalent term,
rather pointless. And in that case a Roman law term can be useful.


Description of the method of a lawyer/translator

To gain an idea of how a legal translator works, here is an article (in Dutch) giving a description of the law comparitive method. It was written by Antoinette Dop, founder of AD Lexis and published in the Linguaan, a professional journal published by the NGTV, the professional organisation for interpreters and translators in the Netherlands.

"it was only when I read your translation that I understood what the text was all about!", reaction of a client after reading a translation half of which was completed by AD lexis.