Legal translation can be challenging because certain legal concepts do not always translate well from one language―or jurisdiction―into another. The indirect way of translating a legal concept, plus the necessary explanations to thresh it out, add an added layer of complexity to an already complicated legal process.
In a country like Russia, where there is no institute to accredit translators and all translations intended for the courts or various state bodies need to be certified by a notary, the complex process of legal translation could turn into a knotty problem.
To learn how translators at a leading Russian law firm navigate this labyrinth, Slator interviewed Julia Lipina, Head of the Translation Department at Russian law firm Pepeliaev Group. Lipina joined the firm as a translator in 2009 before being appointed to her current post in 2014.
Pepeliaev Group tackles some 15,000 translation pages each year. Common document types are contracts and agreements, constituent documents, primary legislation and other statutory instruments produced by ministries and state authorities, registration documents and certificates, court documents, legal opinions and memoranda and various marketing materials such as alerts, legislation overviews, projects, CVs, brochures, and so on.
“Our department―or, to be more precise, I as head of the department―offer a single point of contact for all units at Pepeliaev Group with regard to translations”―Julia Lipina, Head of the Translation Department at Pepeliaev
The firm’s translators mostly translate from Russian into English and vice versa, although they do work as well on translations from German, French, and Spanish, or into those languages. Lately, the firm has taken on translations from and into Chinese and Korean, “to service our firm’s increasing number of clients from these countries. Other languages are less popular among our clients,” Lipina says.
We also communicated with Pepeliaev Group’s Deputy CEO Alexander Vinogradov, who says the firm’s translation department “has a very strict quality control system: all translations must be checked by the English-speaking editor (for translations into English) or another translator (for translations into Russian)” for a fresh pair of eyes.
He says the firm maintains its own glossary used in concert with SDL Trados software, ensuring consistent terminology across documents.
“We are very meticulous with regard to translation quality,” says Vinogradov, who manages several administrative departments including translation and to whom Lipina reports.
Vinogradov explains the firm has a mentoring system, “where the head of the department and our English editor train new translators to take our translation standards on board.” He says they also “regularly organize internal training sessions and seminars for our translators.”
“I think the development of CAT technologies will continue to be the most important driver of the translation industry’s future development”―Julia Lipina, Head of the Translation Department at Pepeliaev
Additionally, they hold “various internal and client seminars relating to English or legal drafting in English,” the latter conducted by the firm’s English editor, “a qualified lawyer, who teaches Russian lawyers how to draft effectively in English.” Vinogradov says these seminars “are invariably popular among colleagues and clients alike.”
What follows is our interview with Head of the Translation Department Julia Lipina.
Slator: How many staff work in some translation capacity at the firm?
Lipina: Our department consists of eight people; me as the head of the department, our English native-speaking editor, who is also an experienced lawyer, and six full-time translators.
Slator: To whom do you outsource translations?
Lipina: Our general policy is to outsource as few translations as possible, as we can be 100% sure about the quality only if translations are done by our own staff. However, some translations have to be outsourced.
We have several trusted freelancers and also use the services of a couple of translation agencies. We mostly send freelancers legal translations into English or from English, which we are not able to do ourselves because of tight deadlines, large volumes, or both.
We have attempted to build a network of freelancers, whom we either know personally or who are friends of friends. We are sure about the quality of their translations and they are regularly given feedback by me or our English editor.
“We keep working with freelancers and agencies because first, we are more or less sure of the quality of their translations”―Julia Lipina, Head of the Translation Department at Pepeliaev
As a result, we trust them with translations we would normally do ourselves if we had time. We usually send translation agencies non-legal translations into and from English―technical, IT, medical translations―as well as translations into or from other languages.
We keep working with freelancers and agencies because first, we are more or less sure of the quality of their translations; second, they respond promptly and translate at good speed; third, their rates are quite reasonable.
Slator: Do all business units at Pepeliaev Group use the same translation provider? What about associates working overseas?
Lipina: Our department―or, to be more precise, I as head of the department―offer a single point of contact for all units at Pepeliaev Group with regard to translations. When I receive a document for translation, I decide whether it will be done by the department or outsourced, and send the final result back to our lawyers.
Also, the translation department is a point of contact for what we call our “direct” clients, both Russian and international. These are clients who need translations that do not relate to any legal projects handled by our firm. In this way, we also work as a sort of small and exclusive translation boutique.
Slator: What translation management system do you use?
Lipina: We use SDL Trados, as do the majority of translation providers and agencies in Russia. I believe this software is very popular internationally as well as in the Russian market. We are certainly very satisfied with its functionality and performance. We use it to translate about 90–95% of all our documents.
Slator: What technology do you foresee being most useful to law firms in the future?
Lipina: I believe CAT tools represent a huge technological breakthrough in the translation world. This applies to legal translation as well. I think the development of CAT technologies will continue to be the most important driver of the translation industry’s future development.
Slator: Any interesting legal translation anecdotes?
Lipina: Once I was interpreting for a judge of the US Tax Court at the firm’s annual tax conference, to which he was invited as a speaker. Before his presentation, we went through the plan of his speech so he could let me know what he was going to talk about and make my job easier.
He showed me a printed quotation from a newly enacted US law he was going to read to the public. When I read the text, I noticed it contained a grammatical mistake: “they” plus a verb in the singular or something like that, I don’t remember exactly.
I pointed out the mistake to the judge and he just sat there looking at the text for a minute or two. Then he told me, “You know, it really seems like there is a mistake here. And this is actually a law that has been enacted.”
Since then, I’ve started to treat mistakes in translations a bit more easily because, as I know, there can be mistakes even in laws. No translated text can actually be perfect.
Image: Julia Lipina with US tax attorney Marlene Laro speaking at Pepeliaev Group’s annual international tax law conference in Moscow