Firstly, what is a clause library? Basically just a place (e.g., an Excel file) where you can store your preferred translations for typical clauses and other phrases that often come up in contracts.
I got this idea from Tiffany Kemp’s book Essential Contract Drafting Skills. While she is referring to contract drafters keeping a library of monolingual clauses, it works well for translators, too.
Different to using a CAT tool
What’s the difference between a clause library and the translation memory (TM) of a CAT tool? (For the uninitiated, a CAT (computer aided translation) tool keeps a sentence database (the TM) of all your previous translations from which it offers you suggestions when similar sentences (matches) come up in your source text.)
One problem with CAT tool suggestions is that you can’t be sure you’re getting your latest or preferred version for a particular translation. Because the TM makes suggestions based on how closely sentences match, you may be offered a very old translation you’ve since improved. Or you may not get any suggestion at all.
This is not so useful when variations in source-text wording are unimportant, as is often the case for things like boilerplate clauses and other formulaic language you find in contracts.
As differences in wording will often throw your CAT tool off the scent of the translation you’re looking for, you need another system to keep track of your most up-to-date translations for this type of language.
With a clause library, if you know you’re looking for say a typical lead-in sentence to the operative part of a contract, you just copy and paste your preferred version straight from your Excel file. You know it’s your best and most up-to-date version — regardless of the particular wording of the source text you are translating.
Of course, there are many advantages to using a CAT tool. I’m not suggesting a clause library is an alternative to using one, just that it is a useful complement that can overcome this particular shortcoming.