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German Legal Translation

Useful Online Terminology Resources

The subject of German legal translation is usually included under the heading of “general translation” rather than “technical translation”.

However, I would say that legal translation is a very specialized field indeed, with a lot of subject-specific terminology and phraseology.

You have to do more than simply translate a German text into English – you also need a good grasp of the subject matter, and to use correct English legal terminology.

German law is different....

There's an added complication when it comes to German legal texts – different systems of law:

German legal translation

- German (and most continental European) law is codified law (civil law jurisdiction). It has its origins in Roman law and was strongly influenced by Napoleonic laws after 1830.

- Anglo-Saxon countries (US, UK, Australia etc.) have a system of common law.

Luckily for the German translator working in Europe, much national law defers to European law which is applicable to all member countries of the EU, both English and German-speaking countries.

The European Commission issues an official EU terminology database of the legal terminology used within the European Union. But when dealing with national law, in a German-speaking country, research will often be needed.

In general, because the systems of law in German-speaking and Anglo-Saxon countries differ, translating German legal terms into English often requires some explanation as well as translation, and you need to be aware of “official”, accepted English translations for specific German legal terminology.

The word on the net is that it’s hard to find a good online German legal translation dictionary or glossary, but that the LEO online German English dictionary is probably as good as any. I’d have to agree there.

Worth noting, too, is that there are significant differences in legal terminology between Germany, Austria and Switzerland – we are back to Context! Context! Context!

I recently had to research the term Sperrschein. I wondered why it wasn't turning up in my dictionaries until I realized this is an Austrian term - Germany uses Vinkulierung (restricted transferability - form of bank guarantee often part of leasing contracts).

Anyway, I've tracked down the following German legal translation glossaries and dictionaries which I hope you'll find useful:

TIP! Got a German legal document which needs translating into English for official purposes (e.g. marriage certificates, contracts, German patent translation etc.)? Check if your German translation needs to be translated by a certified translator (gerichtlich beeidigt – officially recognised by the courts).

Legal terminology: bilingual glossaries

German law
  • DEUTERM – German Terminology portal:
  1. Cyberlaw
  2. Life Insurance
  3. Reinsurance
  4. Tenancy
  5. Employment
  6. Wills
  • Glossary of German laws & legal terms - useful overview of German laws.
  • WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation)- multilingual terminology portal with access to scientific and technical terms derived from patent documents.TERMDAT - Swiss Federal Administration’s terminology database.Ju-Lex - Glossary of criminal justice in Europe.Translegal - (subscription) A translation agency working with universities to produce an online multilingual law dictionary. May prove to be a valuable future resource for translators.
  • The COMMIN project - promoting Spatial Development by Creating COMmon MINdscapes – an EU project which has drawn up 11 national glossaries on the subject of planning.
  •  European Judicial Network - in civil and commercial matters: multilingual glossary of key terms in all EU community languages: (manually switch languages using dropdown box top right).

German monolingual sources

English monolingual sources

  • The German Law Archive - an archive of German legal cases, statutes, literature and bibliographies translated into English - a great reference source for your German legal translation queries.
  • The World Legal Information Institute - now this is a great resource, a goldmine of German legal translation terminology and itself an index of links to German legislation, statutes and court reports, all in English translation.
  • The Austrian Federal Chancellery publishes all the Austrian laws which have currently been translated into English. Great for cross referencing purposes.

Jorn Schüler recommends these 2 legal dictionaries, the Wörterbuch der Rechts- und Wirtschaftssprache, by Clara-Erika Dietl, or the Dictionary of Legal and Commercial Terms by Alfred Romain.

They're expensive, but anyone serious about legal translation should have one. Try looking for a used copy on Amazon:

Law societies

  • The German Law Journal- a free monthly US publication containing peer-reviewed commentaries on developments in German, European and International law. The articles are in English and may well be of interest for German translators specializing in German legal translation.
  • The Anglo-German Law Society - promotes dialogue between English and German law students, academics, professionals and universities, with the aim of helping members to practice in both legal systems. It offers networking opportunities for sharing experiences and expertise, regular meetings, a monthly newsletter, as well as internships at member practices. (For translators with a legal background, perhaps a good source of clients?)
  • EUR-Lex - the European law portal, newly revamped. Provides free access to European Union law and other public documents in 23 EU languages. Simple and advanced search functions.

TIP! I often suggest the following sentence be inserted into a translated German legal text:

"In the event of any conflict or contradiction between the German version of this contract and its English translation, the original German version is legally binding."

Not an excuse for lax translation, but instead clarity for all parties to the contract.

If you work in German legal translation...

Most professional translators are thorough and precise and will make every effort to ensure that a term has been properly translated – it’s the nature of the profession.

But even so, if you are a German translator specializing in German legal translation then it’s worth considering professional indemnity insurance, and adding a disclaimer to the foot of your translated texts.... just in case!

Do you know of a good German legal glossary?

If you'd like to recommend a good German legal glossary, then we'd love to hear from you: use the form below (I will NOT pass your details on to anyone!) to submit your suggested source and we'll add it to the list.

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German Translation Tips & Resources

This article is part of a series on specialist German vocabulary & glossaries. See also:

German Technical Translation

German Medical Translation

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