Translating contracts – talk notes (METM15)

This page contains links, notes and references for my METM15 talk on contract translation. You can download a PDF of the talk here.

translating contracts

The notes are listed by the order of the sides and are basically just further explanation on some of the points in the talk and links to blog posts and other resources. (NB: Not all the slides and points in the talk appear in this page.)

Why the talk in the first place?

head in sand

A picture of me a year ago

See this post for background as to how this talk came about.

The useful distinction: form vs content

An intuitive distinction

An intuitive distinction

See this blog post for more on this distinction.

A modern vs a traditional legal register

The register dilemma

The register dilemma

See this post for more on this point and a nice quote from Garner about how good legal writing requires forgetting legalese, and also this post on “useful legalese”.

Where to get authentic models from

Practical tips

Practical tips

  • The Internet, but be critical of the quality and what register is being used (i.e., traditional versus modern).
  • Drafting guides, which usually provide samples.
  • Contracts you’ve signed, which can be very useful.

Why a drafting book and which one to get

Having a drafting book helps you fill in the gaps. You can learn the philosophy behind the style of contract drafting you want to emulate, which enables you to more quickly come up with authentic solutions to translation problems.

While any English contract drafting book would be a useful place to start, and any of the books listed in references below would do, I’d first recommend A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting by Kenneth A. Adams. It’s very thorough and has a lot of practical and easy-to-follow advice. I wrote this post about it when I first bought it.

What about the clause library?

See this post for more on clause libraries and the CAT-tool shortcoming they overcome.

I got the idea for a clause library from Tiffany Kemp’s Essential Contract Drafting.

Do change tenses: What tense to use where

What tense where

What tense where

See this post for more information about what tense to you use there.

Chapter 3 of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting by Kenneth A. Adams (Chapter 3) has an excellent breakdown of what tense and even what verb to use for different types of contract language.


Use "shall" properly

Use “shall” properly

See here and this post for more on shall. Both these pages have links to useful external resources.

Be specific and consistent, even when the source text isn’t

Same term all the time

Same term all the time

See this post for more about how Spanish uses synonyms and pronouns more often than English.

Be brave with term research!

When faced with a non-equivalent term

When faced with a non-equivalent term

Here I’m referring to non-equivalent legal terms, which is one of the main focuses on this blog. From one angle or another, I have written quite a few posts on this topic, although perhaps the most relevant ones for this talk are:

I have also written posts on approaches for translating the following tricky Spanish legal terms: reserva de ley, imputados/imputar, estado de derecho, la casta, aforamiento, dación en pago

For more on contracts

For more tips and resources on translating contracts, visit the following pages:

Quick tips on translating contracts

Resources on translating contracts


I’d love to hear what you thought of the ideas in the talk (or just the slides if you didn’t go to the talk). Please leave any comments you wish or send me a message via this form.


Adams, K.A., (2013) A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting. 3rd edn. Chicago: ABA Publishing

Asensio, R.M., (2007) ‘Comparación de los contratos en inglés y en español como ayuda al traductoror’, Papers Lextra, 3, pp. 55–61, [Online]. Available in PDF here

Alvarado, I., (2004) Guía para la traducción de contratos de arrendamiento. Master’s dissertation Universidad Nacional. Available in PDF here

Ferran, E., (2006) ‘El traductor jurídico y la intertextualidad: El ordenamiento jurídico como contexto comunicativo-documental del documento de partida’ Quaderns. Revista de traducció 13, pp. 155–168. [Online]. Available in PDF here

Garner, B.A., (2013) Legal Writing in Plain English. 2nd edn. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Kemp, T., (2012) Essential Contract Drafting Skills. Leipzig: Amazon Distribution

Kaplan, D., (2011) ‘Some tips for improving Spanish-to-English legal translations’, Mutatis Mutandis. Vol. 4, No. 2. pp. 287–293, [Online]. Available in PDF here

Lassaque, L., (2006) La traducción de los contratos : inglés-castellano/castellano-inglés : elementos teóricos y traducciones comentadas, 1st ed. Buenos Aires : self-published. Available in PDF here

Moya, I.A., (2004) Guía para la Traducción de Contratos de Arrendamiento. Coursework. Universidad Nacional, [Online]. Available in PDF here

Nebot, A., (2006) ‘Comparación de los contratos de arrendamiento ingleses con los españoles’, Fòrum de recerca nº 12,2006-2007 Jornades de Foment de la Investigació Univeritat Jaume I [Online]. Available in PDF here

Rutledge, A., (2012) Basic Legal Drafting: Litigation Documents, Contracts, Legislative Documents. Createspace