An article by Erik Sherman at law. com, Don’t Let Litigation Get Lost in Translation
Can language conversion software cut cross-border litigation bills?
discusses the problems for a litigation lawyer of dealing with a huge amount of foreign-language material. One has heard tales of US lawyers being presented with truckloads of papers at the discovery stage (Offenlegung).
The conclusions seem to be:
Use machine translation (MT) to get a rough idea of which documents might be worth translating
The article mentions free software and implies that there are other systems. It doesn’t mention the possibility, if you often work with a particular language, of ‘training’ an in-house MT system to translate certain terms in a certain way, to expect legal terminology rather than general terminology and so on. Nor does it mention the problems of optical character recognition (OCR) if the documents are poor faxes. They may even be handwritten. If documents are not in electronic form, you might need to call in a translator to help you sift them. I remember Steve Vitek‘s stories of helping lawyers sort through Japanese patents.
If you need to keep an eye out for keywords, get a translator to identify them in the foreign language, since if they are inconsistently MTd, you may overlook them in English.
Get important documents translated by a human translator
For languages using a different alphabet or writing system, get a translator to identify possible software problems in advance
If you have to use several human translators, use a computer-aided translation system (CAT – translation memory) or at least a glossary to keep them consistent on the main terminology
Don’t let your lawyers change to a foreign language to discuss sensitive issues in the hope that the other side won’t notice what you’re up to
A law firm’s translation department should know a lot of this already. But maybe there are fewer translation departments in the USA.
The article doesn’t go into detail on what law firms need to know, for instance when it obliquely refers to CAT.
Once down to the critical documents, it’s time for human translation. But even here, translation technology plays an important role. Not only can it help jump-start an experienced translator’s efforts, but it can also enforce important uniformity of translation. “A lot of words are subject to multiple interpretations, so what can happen is that you can have two duplicates that have been translated differently, and it can have consequences,” says Constantine Cannon’s Solow. The more translators working on a matter, the greater the chance for variability in translation. Professional translation tools can “learn” specific translation choices and then present them as preferred options to any translator on the team. The translators then feed refined translations back into the tools, increasing the speed of the entire process. And suddenly, you’re ready for court before you can count un, deux, trois.
Sounds great. I incline more to quatre-vingts-dix myself.
I would add to the above: if you have a good translator who knows about software, don’t underestimate their value to you.
This is a weird statement:
The problem of trusting a translation becomes even more critical when dealing with many Asian languages, in which a single character can represent a complex concept. “One of those characters could have hundreds, maybe even thousands of meanings,” says Duncan McCampbell, president of international business consultancy McCampbell Global and a former litigator. “There are characters in Chinese [for example] that have no equivalent in English.”