Legal translation is one of the most specialized and highly paid fields in the translation industry. Although there are general legal translators who deal with the run of the mill but common legal translation tasks like translating personal documents, much legal translation is much more complex.
Legal translators may be needed to translate complex and detailed business documents like contracts. They may be needed if there are legal proceedings such as business litigation that transcends language barriers. The most specialized legal translation and one that requires a deep familiarity with culture in legal translation are when the law in one country is being interpreted in another country altogether.
It is true that some widely separated countries geographically share common legal backgrounds. This is true wherever former colonial countries have imposed their legal heritage on colonies and territories all over the world. For instance, English common law is also an important ingredient in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It is in many former British colonies, such as India or Nigeria, too. France is another former colonial power and French law has had a significant impact on the law that has evolved in its former colonies.
It doesn’t take a legal translator to interpret legal differences between countries where the same language is spoken, but it does when the national language or the main legal language is different.
For example, Indian law is made up of federal law as well as state law. It may be in English as well as Hindi. Some of that law has an English legal component and some of it hasn’t. Any legal documents that are shared between India and any other country must be translated by people who are aware of the differences in the law as well as fluency in the language pairs.
Understanding the nuances of culture in the legal translation of a country is vital if legal translations are not going to end up being misunderstood. Many laws do have a parallel in spite of the lack of shared history, but on the other hand, there are also culture-specific laws too. A good example is a country like Malaysia, where Moslem citizens are subject to both Sharia Law, as well as Malaysian state law.