ISO 20771:2020 Legal translation — Requirements

Published on 23.07.2021

Industry Standards Demystified – Part 6

By: Monika Popiolek, ATA TCD Newsletter and Blog contributor and ISO/CEN industry standards expert

ISO 20771:2020 defines best practice for the delivery of professional legal translation services by individual translators and sets minimum requirements that have to be met in order to demonstrate a legal translator’s conformity to the standard. In particular, the standard specifies requirements for the competences and qualifications of legal translators, revisers and reviewers and other factors directly affecting the quality and delivery of legal translation services. It also sets requirements and provides recommendations on core processes, resources, confidentiality, insurance, professional development, as well as training and other key aspects of the legal translation service provided by individual translators.

From the practical and certification point of view, fulfilment of all the requirements set out in ISO 20771 allows the individual legal translator to demonstrate conformity of their legal translation services to this document and their capability to maintain a level of quality in legal translation services that will meet the client’s and other applicable specifications.

Restrictions in the application of this standard are as follows:

  1. use of output from machine translation, even with post-editing, is outside the scope of this standard (but consulting of a machine translation resource by a legal translator, does not constitute use of raw machine translation plus post-editing);
  2. the standard does not apply to interpreting services;
  3. the standard clearly states that it is intended for individuals, so translation companies or departments cannot claim conformance (aka self-declaration) or certify against this standard.

While ISO 17100:2015 is a generalist translation requirements product standard, ISO 20771:2020 was developed as a specialist standard and it is complementary to ISO 17100. Apart from specialisation, the main difference is that ISO 20771 is intended for individual translators while ISO 17100 obviously cannot be implemented by individuals (because the process set therein requires input from at least three different functions: translator, reviser and project manager).

As stated in the introduction to ISO 20771, the reasoning behind the document is that legal translation is a specialization which covers law-related or legal specialist field translation in terms of content as well as context (e.g. legal settings). Given the highly specialist field, potential legal consequences, and formal and liability issues, this specialization requires specific competences and a very professional approach from the specialist translators involved. Due to the formalized, official or sensitive nature of the subject matter in some countries, settings and under certain circumstances, legal translators may be subject to specific professional, confidentiality and ethical requirements, authorization, certification, and security clearance procedures. Furthermore, in some countries, certain types of legal translation are performed by authorized legal translators who have to comply with specific official requirements.

Therefore, serious legal issues and other consequences can be avoided if the legal translation service is provided by competent legal translators who have professional understanding of the relevant legal systems, knowledge of legal terminology and target language genre conventions and can produce authentic texts. Legal documents constitute the basis for many personal and business undertakings and it needs to be stressed that legal translation is a highly specialized type of translation service which is frequently used in official and legal settings and this requires meeting the highest professional quality benchmarks. Taking the above into account as well as the fact that there were previously no specialist international standards in this area, ISO 20771 was developed in response to an evident market need.

ISO 20771 defines some key translation terms, such as ‘legal translation’, ‘specialized translation’, ‘specialist translator’, ‘revision’, ‘domain’ vs. ‘specialization’, ‘legal translator’ vs. ‘authorized legal translator’, ‘lawyer linguist’, ‘translation certification’, ‘non-disclosure agreement (NDA)’, service level agreement (SLA), ‘continuing professional development (CPD)’, ‘continuing education point (CEP)’ etc. Altogether, there are 51 termsdefined in ISO 20771, and this information is an important industry resource in itself.

ISO 20771 comprehensively explains the concept and practice of translation certification and the distinction between legal translation in general and authorized legal translation in particular, where:

  1. legal translation refers to any law-related or legal specialist field translation and typically covers translation of agreements, contracts, acts of law, powers of attorney, notarial deeds, court decisions, financial statements, registration documents or any other legal documents which do not require translation certification by an authorised legal translator but should be translated by a legal translator who specialises in translating this type of content and translation within this specialist field;


  • authorized legal translation refers to specialized translation performed by officially authorized legal translators (who in some countries or regions are also referred to as court appointed translators, sworn translators, court authorised legal translators or certified legal translators) and the certified translation they provide has the status of officially recognized documents. This typically covers translation of personal documents, certificates, documents used in court and administrative proceedings and any other personal of corporate documents that require certification and signing off by an officially authorised legal translator using personal signature, electronic signature, official seal or other officially recognized methods.

Under ISO 20771 legal translators are required to havethe following competences:

  • Translation competence;
  • Linguistic and textual competence in the source language and the target language;
  • Specialist legal field competence;
  • Competence in research, information acquisition and processing;
  • Legal culture competence;
  • Technical competence.

Furthermore, under ISO 20771, a legal translator shall meet at least one of the following qualification criteria in relations to the relevant language pair (including documented evidence to this effect):

  1. a recognized degree in translation, language studies or an equivalent degree that includes a significant translation training component from an institution of higher education and a post-graduate degree in law or another specialist legal field from an institution of higher education and the equivalent of at least three years’ full-time professional experience in translating within the legal field;
  2. a recognized degree in law or another specialist legal field from an institution of higher education and the equivalent of at least three years’ full-time professional experience in translating documents within the legal field;
  3. a recognized degree in translation or any field from an institution of higher education and the equivalent of at least five years’ full-time professional experience in translating in the legal field;
  4. a recognized degree in any field from an institution of higher education and a recognized professional qualification as a certified legal translator from an officially recognized professional organisation and the equivalent of at least three years’ full-time professional experience in translating in the legal field;
  5. an officially recognized qualification as an authorised legal translator on the basis of relevant national requirements and regulations.

The key process requirement in ISO 20771 is that each and every document has to be translated by a suitably qualified and competent legal translator and then fully revised by a reviser of legal translation who is as qualified and competent as the translator (but is not the translator). This „two pairs of eyes” approach is consistent with ISO 17100.

The reason that ISO 20772 is considered to be one of the most important industry standards nowadays is because it is the first standard that describes the best practice and many core professional requirements and issues related to specialist professional translation in general, such as due diligence, confidentiality, data and information security, professional liability insurance, record-keeping, data protection etc..

Another important issue addressed in ISO 20772 is the requirement that translators devote at least 5% of their time to updating their knowledge and investing in continuing professional development (CPD) as well as industry involvement and knowledge-sharing. The standard outlines how this should be achieved using a continuing education points (CEPs) system and offers guidance on its application.

ISO 20771 has three informative Annexes:

  • Annex A – Information on authorized legal translation used in judicial settings, and for the use of public authorities and commercial purposes
  • Annex B – Information on legal translation in government institutions and non-governmental organisations
  • Annex C – Information on how to document and quantify continuing professional development (CPD)

ISO 20771 is a very important standard for the following reasons, in particular:

  • the document provides a recognized best practice benchmark for legal translation;
  • in countries where there are no officially authorised translators the standard might provide an alternative solution for certified translation services;
  • a legal translator working according to ISO 20771 demonstrates a public commitment to following highest professional standards and delivering quality legal translation services;
  • translators’ associations or federations can develop certification schemes for individual legal translators based on ISO 20771, and TSPs and end-clients who use such certified legal translators can expect to work with professionals who will meet high quality specialist requirements;
  • it is the first standard to address a number of translation issues that have previously never been defined or standardized (confidentiality, security, translator involvement, knowledge-sharing, professional liability insurance, signing off on translation, official authorisation requirements, CPD etc.), and it is therefore an invaluable professional resource for the whole industry;
  • it is the first ISO standard ever for individual translators and it is the first ISO standard ever that can be used for certification of individual translators;
  • it not only sets the required competences and qualifications necessary for potential certification but also maps the legal translation process step-by-step and sets key benchmarks for delivering high quality legal translation;
  • translators who have implemented the standard have professionalised their services and seen improvements in how they manage their translation process, deal with clients and CPD;
  • it demonstrates that a legal translator conforming to it is a suitably qualified and competent legal translator by any standards;
  • it is considered to be a high standard and a difficult one to conform to, and hence the resulting prestige factor only contributes to its marketing potential as a standard of excellence.


Author information: Monika Popiolek has an MA in English, an Executive MBA and is a graduate of a PhD Management Programme. She has been a specialist translator and interpreter for over thirty years and is also an authorised certified legal translator, CEO of MAart Agency Ltd. since 1991, President of the Polish Association of Translation Companies (PSBT) since 2009, Head of National Delegation and Chair of the ISO TC 37 Mirror Committee at PKN, OASIS, ISO and CEN expert since 2007, the EUATC Liaison Rep. to ISO TC 37, member of ATA, and many other organisations. Monika is the author of many publications, member of the editorial board of the JIAL journal (John Benjamins Publishing Company) and has presented at more than 25 international conferences. Her research specializations are: quality management, translation quality assurance, specialist translation and standards (particularly  ISO 17100, ISO 9001, ISO/IEC 82079-1, ISO 27001, ISO 20771). She was one of the editors for the ISO 17100 (Translation services – Requirements), Project Leader for two ISO standards (ISO 20771 and ISO 21999), and is the manager of the ISO TC 37 LinkedIn Industry Standards Group.

You can find and contact her on LinkedIn: