Pricing: Is asking a bilingual member of staff to translate a document internally really cheaper?

This is an interesting question. Law firms or legal departments often try to save costs by asking bilingual colleagues to do the translation. But is it really cheaper than outsourcing? Of course, this depends on a number of different factors. If we are talking about a short email and the colleague who has been asked to translate the document is truly bilingual, I would say it is cheaper and you should go for it. You can even allow the person to do this as billable time. However, the longer and more complex the document, the more expensive this option becomes as the case study below illustrates.

Case Study: You need a four-page legal document (let’s say around 2,500 words) to be translated.

Option 1: You ask a trainee or junior to translate a document. It can take them ten hours to do this (let’s say 2 days adding their lunch break and coffee break). If you do not bill the end client for the work, this leaves the law firm out of pocket for two days of the trainee’s salary. A trainee in a city law firm earns on average £40,000 per year, approximately £153 per day (before tax). Two days would cost you £306. For a newly qualified lawyer, whose yearly gross salary is around £65,000, this amounts to £250 a day, so the translation would cost £500.

Summary: Cost – £250-£500 paid by law firm; 2 days

 Option 2: You ask a trainee or junior to translate a document but you bill the client. In London, the average hourly rate in 2017 is £160 for a trainee and £220 for a newly qualified lawyer. So assuming the translation takes around 10 hours, this means a cost of between £1,600 and £2,200 and two days to deliver.

Summary: Cost – £1,600-2,200 paid by client, two days to deliver.

Option 3: You outsource to a professional translator. For the purpose of this post, I will not discuss the price difference between agencies and freelance translators (You can read more on that here). On average, a good translator who is specialised in legal translation translates around 400 to 500 words per hour. This project would therefore take 5 to 7 hours (i.e. one day of work), and 2 or 3 more hours if it is proofread for quality assurance. Most translators charge by the word. The average rate by the word for basic quality legal translation is £0.14-£0.20. That means £350-500 for this project.

Summary: Cost: £350-500 paid by client, one to two days to delivery.

 The numbers above speak for themselves. In fact, with the internal translation options, you may even need to add the cost of hiring a professional translator to correct the internal translation (as I have seen it done in one particular case).

I would also recommend that you read my post about the dangers of asking a colleague to translate a document internally, which also explains the issues in terms of quality, team spirit and effective allocation or resources.


Leave comment