Translating a legal contract into any language is a difficult task for a lawyer or translator. Legal contracts, and legal documents in general, are challenging because they are not only for informational purposes to the reader, they also perform an action and enforce a set of rules the signatories agree to. In other words, legal contracts typically are performative, informational, and prescriptive. There are no other documents that we know of that have all three of these qualities (send us a note if you know any others!). Because of this unique complexity, translating a legal contract into a different language must be executed in specific way relative to generalist translations.
Expanding into Portuguese speaking countries is a great business opportunity for businesses. There are roughly 260 million Portuguese speakers, most of which are located in Brazil. Portugal has roughly 10 million speakers. Brazil has a GDP of roughly $2 trillion, which has made it a popular country to expand into for many US companies. Portuguese contract translation has its own unique complexities given the Brazil has its own Government, legal systems, laws, legal writing styles, and key legal terms. For example, Brazil and Portugal’s legal system is based on a Civil Law system. Brazil also has rules about Sworn translation requirements for foreign language legal documents.
Below are the major steps on how to translate a legal contract into Portuguese.
Pre-Work: Understand Target Market
Before starting any translation, it is important for you to understand where the resulting Portuguese legal contract is going to be used. Is it going to be used in Brazil? Portugal? Both? It is important to understand this before starting work so you can consider the Legal System used by the target markets, the Legal Writing Style, Country Specific Laws that may apply to this contract, and key Portuguese terms with their preferred translation, which may vary between Brazil and Portugal. You may also want to find an English to Portuguese legal glossary for reference as you translate.
Adapt English Contract
Once you have done your pre-work and understand where the Portuguese legal contract will be used, start by adapting the English version of the Contract to reflect the changes necessary to work within the target market. For example, if a clause is specific to the Common Law legal system and you are translating the legal contract to be used in a country that uses the Civil Law system, like Brazil and Portugal, then it may need to be removed. It is best to consult a contracts lawyer that works in the target market(s) for this step. Make sure the work product is completed in tracked changes and you understand all revisions.
Pro tip: keep track of the changes that were made in English per target market so you can create a playbook for future legal contracts.
Translate English Contract
After the English version has been adapted, hire a native Portuguese-speaking lawyer, translator or translation service to execute the translation of the legal contract. Given the complexity of a legal contract, we think the best strategy is to hire a native Portuguese-speaking contract lawyer that works in the target country. Hiring a Portuguese-speaking lawyer in Brazil or Portugal will guarantee you are working with a lawyer that is familiar with the local legal system, laws, legal writing style, and key Portuguese terms. Further, if the contract is an industry specific contract, like an End User License Agreement for a software company, you should work with a native Portuguese-speaking lawyer with relevant experience in that industry. Some key technical terms may be very specific.
There may be instances where the translator needs to add more Portugese text in order to guarantee the legal contract is performing its purpose and the clauses are clear to the signatories. This is a unique technique in translation services but may be necessary in some instances.
Pro tip: Consider adding a prevailing language clause to the translation in the target language. This will state that the English version of the contract will take precedence if there is a dispute between the English and translated versions. Also, check with your lawyer if you are required to have a Sworn Translation (Tradução juramentada) for the legal document you are creating.
Proofread the Portuguese Contract
We believe in quality control and systems. So, we would recommend taking an extra quality control step and hiring an independent Portuguese-speaking lawyer to proofread the newly translated Portuguese contract. This will mitigate against the initial translating lawyer having a specific writing style and choice of words. Any edits can be implemented.
Sample Contract in Target Markets
Finally, take the finalized Portuguese contract and sample it with potential signatories in Brazil and/or Portugal. You want to confirm the Portuguese version is high-quality and is not confusing for the potential target signatory. Like it or not, your legal documents are part of your brand and a bad translation can signal that you are not serious about doing business in that country. Sampling the Portuguese contract will give you the reassurance it is ready to be used in-market.