How to Translate Contracts from or into Russian

Russian legal translation made simple.

Contract legal notice

 

Do you want to translate a contract  from or into Russian, but don’t know how to go about it? Read this article for practical tips that’ll get you going.

Set the right expectations

Why do you need to translate your contract?

Number one reason is to help you or the other party understand what your contract is about.

Another reason is to submit it to authorities for review.

That’s it. It’s very unlikely that you’ll use the translation for anything else, in particular trying to enforce the contract in courts of the other party’s country.

So, your first task is to get a good translation that’ll make sense to whoever will read it.

While doing that, you might realize that producing a fine legal translation—one that’s both accurate and makes sense to people signing the contract—is a challenge.

The legal systems of Russian-speaking and English-speaking countries are quite different.

Contract translation is always a balancing act between mirroring the original closely and using terminology and phrases common to the target language.

This means that although you should expect a translation that’s close to flawless, there’s a certain chance that the original and translated versions will have linguistic discrepancies.

So, your second task is trying to avoid potential legal arguments over the translated version.

I’d recommended taking three precautions:

Precaution 1: main version

Make sure one language version takes precedence, so that only this version is considered legally valid in case of discrepancies. Otherwise, you might end up with two slightly different versions, resulting in misunderstanding between the parties and potentially a case in court.

Precaution 2: jurisdiction clause

In the same vein, make sure your agreement includes a jurisdiction clause, stating that the parties want all disputes to be determined by a particular court.

Failure to mention this can cause uncertainty, additional costs, and delays, as the parties will have to submit to a jurisdiction by reference to rules of private international law.

For example, if your business located in Leesburg, VA, sells something to a person in Krasnodar, Russia, you don’t want any legal proceedings in Krasnodar. Not only will it cost you a lot, but—more importantly—some of the contract terms will not be enforceable under the Russian law.

Precaution 3: understand everything before signing

Never sign a translated version of a contract that you don’t fully understand if this language version will take precedence. Unexpected discrepancies or translation errors can create a mess.

For important contracts, it’s a good idea to have them reviewed by an independent consultant who is a native speaker of the target language. You’ll probably pay them a few hundred dollars, but in the long run, this can save you many thousands in legal fees caused by faulty translations.

Court building

How to search for legal translators

When your goals are clear, you need to find a translator or a translation team that’s right for you. You have two major options to go about it, including:

Option 1: online search

Simply look for a translator using Google or Bing as you would with any other service or product you want to research.

The top search results will be the sites of larger translation agencies. They’re a good choice if you want to translate a into several languages or have a large document that requires urgent translation. However, like big companies in other industries, agencies might be prone to providing “commodity” services.

For a more custom-tailored approach both in terms of translation thoroughness and customer service, you might consider local, single-language agencies or individual translators who can offer more personalized services. So, look beyond the Google’s first results page.

Read more about choosing between a translation agency and a freelance translator.

Option 2: translator sites

Post your request to a translator job site such as Proz.com and wait for candidates to reply.

This search tool is cost-effective, since it allows you to post your job once and get 10 or more offers, instead of sending the same job to 100 translators by hand to get the same 10 offers.

Another benefit is being able to find good value for money by offering a lower pay rate in a hope that good translators will respond to your request. This does happen, because even highly qualified translators might be desperate for work at times. It helps if your contract is large enough.

Whether you want to use this tactic to save money is another question. (More on cutting legal translation costs below.)

Legal fees money

How to select candidates

To find the right translator, look at things like:

Specialization

You need a professional translator or translation team that specializes in legal translation. Unlike simple technical translation that often doesn’t require much background, translating contracts requires specialized knowledge and experience.

The translator must clearly state that she specializes in legal translation. If she has a long list of specializations (around 10), that’s a red flag. Having 1 to 4 specializations listed as preferred is usually ideal.

Site or profile quality

Does it appear reputable?

Does it look like something that the translator invested time into building?

Does it have useful content that speaks volumes about her mastering the translation craft?

Social media

Look the translator up on social media. The links to those pages should be available on her site or profile.

Does she project an image of a professional?

Does she post about translation regularly? If not, she might be a hobby translator.

Credibility

Look for reviews of the translator’s work by her clients. One source is Proz.com.

Ask for references and review them. Contact those people who provided them. Here is an example of a testimonial that a client gave us after translating an agreement into Russian.

Another hack is to look at domain age using tools like whois. The longer the domain exists, the more credible the business is.

Samples

Ask for anonymous samples of previous work.

Ideally, you can have someone who knows the target language review them.

But even if you don’t have such person to call upon, samples will give you a general idea of the candidate’s work ethic.

If she sends you someone’s confidential documents, that’s clearly a sign she’s careless.

Native speaker dilemma

As you evaluate candidates, you need to consider whether they are native speakers of the target language or not.

Native speakers for English to Russian combination

Ideally, you need a translator who is a native speaker of the language. A native speaker is in the best position to produce a translation that’s both accurate and makes sense. With English to Russian translation, finding such candidates is relatively easy, because there are quite a few of them.

Native speakers for Russian to English combination

However, with translation from Russian into English, it’s more of a challenge, since there are many fewer native speakers of English who can translate from Russian:

Ratio of native Russian to English transltorsAs a result, you need a cushion of time to find these select translators.

You may choose to go with a translator who is not a native speaker of English, though. This might save you time searching and probably money as well, because this translator will likely charge less.

However, these savings come at a price: you end up with literal translations that are difficult to read.

So, is it really worth it?

Given the relatively small amount of text in contracts, these savings will probably be just a few hundred dollars, a thousand max.

Since you’re doing business across countries, saving a few hundreds at the risk of being ridiculed for clumsy translations and costly rework doesn’t sound like a good idea at all.

Wording challenges

English isn’t compatible with Russian not only in terms of the law itself, but also in the way English contracts are worded.

Take this example:

Defend, indemnify, and hold harmless COMPANY against and from all claims, suits, demands, investigations, damages, liabilities, judgments, losses, and expenses

Firstly, Russian contracts don’t normally use long chains of terms (many of them being synonyms), which makes s difficult to find equivalents. In fact, rendering all these synonyms in the translation may result in a text that sounds a little bit odd to Russian speakers. However, this is usually is the way to go, because omitting some of the synonyms is out of the question for legal precision reasons. It’s the translator’s responsibility to be creative and not to give up on finding them.

Another problem with these chains is making all these different words work together in Russian, which has more word forms and is more strict about grammar cohesion.

Here is a correct translation:

защищать, ограждать от любых финансовых обязательств и освобождать от ответственности КОМПАНИЮ в случае претензий, исков, требований, расследований, ущерба, возникновения обязательств, судебных решений, убытков и расходов

Secondly, Russian doesn’t allow using several verbs with prepositions after each other:

expenses arising from or attributable to the Services

Take a literal translation:

расходы, возникающие из или связанные с Услугами

This would be incorrect, because both “возникающие из или” and “возникающие из… с Услугами” are wrong. Which means, a translator needs to give it more thought:

расходы, обусловленные или связанные с фактом оказания Услуг

The point of these examples being that your translator must be creative and thorough—a set of qualities not easily found. Which puts an additional responsibility on you as a buyer: finding the right translator and checking their work.

DIY Do it yourself

Doing Russian to English translation yourself

Finally, you may choose to do the translation yourself.

In fact, this is exactly what happens often in Russia, where companies have their employees, such as administrative assistants or procurement managers, translate contracts into English, even though those employees aren’t professional translators, let alone native speakers of English.

Controversy aside, there are a couple of things you can do even in this scenario to produce a better translation:

  1. Find one or more English contracts similar to the one you’re translating into English and use them as a guide. It’s not the terminology that you’re looking for, because terms are easily found in dictionaries, but rather phrases. Reusing those phrases will reduce the number of literal translations.
  2. Have your translation edited by a professional translator. This can be done at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing the entire translation, but the quality boost can still be significant.

Best practices for layout

A proven format for contracts translated from or into Russian is a bilingual table with the English original on the left and the Russian translation on the right, or vice versa.

This format ensures that the parties sign both language versions at the same time.

Managing two language versions as a single document is more convenient, too.

When you format the agreement, remember to break the text into as many individual cells as possible, instead of having just one big column. Otherwise, the different lengths of the English and Russian text will make it difficult or impossible to read them side by side.

The Russian text is usually longer than the English. Having one long column, without individual cells, doesn’t work, because you end up, for example, with section 7.1 in English next to section 5.1 in Russian.

Misalignment in an agreement Russian translation

Putting each section and/or subsection into an individual cell will keep it nicely synchronized with the counterpart section in the other language.

This might seem like a lot of work, but it pays off in the future, because the two versions will remain side by side no matter how many changes you make afterwards.

Timing

If you follow my tips and do everything right, translation will not be a fast process. It’s therefore important to leave enough time for translation.

I realize, though, this is easier said than done. In fact, my editor Susan who revised this article said, “There isn’t a law firm on the planet that operates this way, in my experience. All my legal translation were expected for delivery “yesterday.”

Still, remember that postponing translation of a contract until the last minute and sending it as an overnight or over-the-weekend job has a negative impact on the quality of translation. Your translation team doesn’t have enough time to do these three things:

  • Do proper research in the course of translation
  • Review the completed translation
  • Raise queries about things they’re uncertain about.

In conclusion

I’ve listed a few things that you need to take into account to translate a contract from or into Russian:

  • Include clauses in your contract to avoid disputes about language versions.
  • Ensure you engage the right translator
  • Use the recommended bilingual contract layout.

The most important step here actually finding a translator.

If you do it right, everything else will fall into place automatically.

One way to achieve this is to follow my suggestions about searching for a needle in a haystack the right translator.

Another way for you to receive a translation that will get you results, not trouble is getting a free quote for our Russian contract translation services.