Insight

Litigating in Tongues

Multilingual E-Discovery Can Present Beaucoup Problems If Managed Incorrectly.

Litigating in Tongues
KB

Katie Botkin

October 14, 2019 01:00 PM

Kyle Sears has engaged in business all over the world, navigating cultures and languages in his professional capacity. However, like many lawyers, he has never dealt directly with handling e-discovery in any language other than English. He admits that he has no idea how he would. His first inclination: “Use Google Translate.”

E-discovery is the process by which a lawyer searches electronic documents and data for potential use in a case. They might be Word documents, PDFs, emails, spreadsheets, images, databases, or a host of other file types—potentially millions of words to sort through. Discovery can include looking at the metadata of electronically stored files, if it’s relevant. This would tell you, for example, when a particular file was created and what its origins are.

Wrangling all these documents can be tricky, and if any or all of the data is in a language other than English, the difficulty increases exponentially. It’s not just a matter of translation—it’s a matter of keeping the translations paired with the original files. Multilingual e-discovery is both a language challenge and a management challenge.

Attorneys themselves rarely handle e-discovery decisions, says Jerry Wish, general manager of Lionbridge Legal. Lionbridge Legal is a legal translation firm working under the larger umbrella of Lionbridge Technologies, a Waltham, Massachusetts–based technology and localization company that operates 55 offices in 26 countries across the globe. Wish has seen a change in recent years when it comes to discovery in a foreign languages. As firms automate and streamline, the responsibility of handling discovery is “gradually shifting to litigation support, project managers, and legal administrators,” he says. However, these aren’t always the same people making the firm’s translation purchasing decisions, and this can cause some confusion.

Lionbridge is one of the largest language service providers in the world, and like many others that offer corporate-level translation services, Wish’s division handles quandaries regarding multilingual e-discovery. “What’s great about e-discovery technology is it makes it easier for counsel to identify, collect, and produce discovery documents, but if the tool you use only does this for English, the work’s not complete,” he says. “That’s why the first best practice any firm should deploy is to bring together those language and collection steps.”

"Multilingual e-discovery is both a language challenge and a management challenge."

Providers can integrate with technology that firms might already be using, Wish notes. “Managing discovery in multiple languages may seem intimidating—translated documents mean two files to manage instead of one—but if you work with the right technology and coordinate efforts between the personnel who manage e-discovery and who buy translation, it doesn’t have to be.”

Indeed, language service providers increasingly tackle translation by adding technology to the mix. Translation tools and related tech, such as optical character recognition, are employed behind the scenes in a number of ways. “If your business wants to handle higher volumes, gain cost efficiencies, and drive high quality, tools are an absolute must,” says Lee Densmer, senior content marketing manager at RWS Moravia, another worldwide language service provider.

One common practice, for example, is using translation memory to leverage previously translated text. This way, firms avoid paying for the same translation twice. The system remembers and automates previously human-translated content, so professional translators are tasked only with translating words and sentences that the system doesn’t already have on file. This saves them time—and thus saves firms money.

Translation memories also form the building blocks of many machine translation engines—those like Google Translate, in fact, which studies the way humans have translated text and makes predictions based on what it learns.

The instinct to use something like Google Translate is not, technically speaking, misplaced. Google Translate runs on sophisticated neural machine-translation algorithms, and sophisticated machine translation is actually a viable option for multilingual e-discovery—it tends to be cheaper than traditional translation by at least a few cents per word, and when you’re dealing with large amounts of text that may or may not be useful, it’s a good way to get the gist of what’s there. “If opposing counsel has sent over thousands of documents and you go to trial next week, you may want to machine translate first in order to get a quick summary or overhead view of what the documents are about, then decide which need expert human review in order to perfect those translations,” Wish says. However, this is useful for generalities only, because even the best machine translation is prone to error. You’ll certainly want expert human translation “if you know beforehand that this file is going to be that essential Exhibit A that the entire case will hinge on,” he adds. “It’s not a question of price so much as of finding value: How do firms balance cost, efficiency, and time?”

Does this mean aspiring young legal minds like Kyle Sears can use Google Translate after all? Not exactly. Even aside from accuracy issues, free machine translation has limitations. Google Translate, specifically, has no privacy settings—the data you input can be stored and used by Google, according to its terms of service. In cases where discovery is confidential, using a free service like Google Translate would be illegal.

Google Translate is also a general translation engine, meaning it doesn’t necessarily take context into account when it looks at how words have previously been translated. It runs on statistics. Auto might get translated like automatic rather than automobile if the engine has encountered more instances of the former. However, proprietary machine-translation engines can be trained by language service providers to cover specific domains and topics.

Perhaps most importantly, managing and keeping track of translations is not something free translation engines are able to do, and this can be the real crux of the challenge when there are a lot of words involved.

The more words there are, the more management oversight is needed, as evidenced by a project Lionbridge recently completed for an automotive supplier. The project covered more than 10 million words in Japanese. “In the sort of cases that can hinge on a single word, that’s a lot of room for error if managed incorrectly,” Wish says. Lionbridge screened each file for duplication and near-duplication, and processed essential government documents, he adds, “since the DOJ played a role in the case.”

Streamlining and automating the e-discovery translation processes proved crucial. Wish says it “brought precision to what, prior to technology-enabled translation, would have been an inefficient, error-prone process with the manual handling of thousands of multilingual documents.” Instead, he notes, using correct project management, as well as linguistic technology like translation memories, saved the client more than $500,000.

Finding a language service provider that fits your firm’s needs, and managing appropriate workflows alongside it, are keys to ensure that Kyle Sears, and everyone like him, can successfully accomplish multilingual e-discovery.

Katie Botkin is a freelance writer and the managing editor of MultiLingual magazine, which ships to 87 countries and covers the language service industry.

Related Articles

Discovery in the Time of COVID-19


by H. Barber Boone

The pandemic has affected the vital process of legal discovery in ways both good and bad. Which changes are likely to become widely accepted in the years ahead?

The Impact of COVID-19 on E-Discovery

High Court Merit


by Tracy Collins Ortlieb

In progressive legal circles, the name Robbie Kaplan has emerged as an omnipresent force for equal and human rights.

Q&A With Roberta Kaplan

When a Dream Home Becomes a Nightmare


by Peter B. McGlynn and Robert Stetson

A modern-day Bleak House* offers a cautionary tale about buying real estate—and a legal strategy that helped our clients gain redress.

Blueprint of a house with yellow caution signs

The Virtual Courtroom


by Andrew E. Curto and Danielle E. Tricolla

Why some of the industry changes the pandemic has wrought—the advent of remote courthouse appearances chief among them—deserve to outlast the return to normal life.

Remote Litigation

Is It Live . . . Or Is It Virtual?


by Adrian L. Bastianelli III, Kevin J. O'Connor, Paulo Flores and Robert S. Peckar

Mediation via Zoom is just one of the legal-industry oddities the pandemic has wrought. Here’s a cheat sheet for how to make it work for you—and some thoughts on whether it’s here to stay.

Virtual Mediation

Selection Protection


by Bradley M. Cosgrove and Robert A. Clifford

Jury Research in High Profile Cases

Jury Research in High Profile Cases

The State of Women Inventors


by Amanda Hermans and Kate Rockwood

What’s being done to improve the gender patent gap—and how attorneys can help.

How to Improve the Gender Patent Gap

Equal to the Task


by Joyce D. Edelman

Fighting for gender equity in the law firm can seem like the very definition of a thankless task. But you just might find yourself able to make great strides.

Gender Equity in the Workplace

The Future of German Technology


by Best Lawyers

How Germany's Law Firm of the Year in Information Technology is leading the way.

Isabell Conrad Schneider Schiffer Weihermulle

Why Cariola Díez Pérez-Cotapos Developed Its Own Legal Tech


by Best Lawyers

Juan Pablo Matus of Cariola Díez Pérez-Cotapos, 2019 "Law Firm of the Year" award for Corporate and M&A Law in Chile, discusses his firm's joint venture with Cognitiva in creating Lexnova, a legal AI system.

Cariola Díez Pérez-Cotapos Interview

Lost in Legal Translation


by Terena Bell

What law firms need to know about translator credentials.

How Legal Translation Can Make or Break a Cas

Artificial Intelligence


by John Ettorre

From science fiction fixture to leading technology trend.

AI: A Capital-Labor Hybrid

The Future of Data Privacy: You Can Run but You Can’t Hide (or Can You?)


by Chad W. King

In Ernest Cline’s dystopian novel "Ready Player One," the world’s population is addicted to a virtual reality game called the OASIS.

The Future of Data Privacy

Trending Articles

How Palworld Is Testing the Limits of Nintendo’s Legal Power


by Gregory Sirico

Many are calling the new game Palworld “Pokémon GO with guns,” noting the games striking similarities. Experts speculate how Nintendo could take legal action.

Animated figures with guns stand on top of creatures

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees


by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

The U.S. Best Lawyers Voting Season Is Open


by Best Lawyers

The voting season for the 31st edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and the 5th edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch® in America is officially underway, and we are offering some helpful advice to this year’s voters.

Golden figures of people standing on blue surface connected by white lines

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

How To Find A Pro Bono Lawyer


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers dives into the vital role pro bono lawyers play in ensuring access to justice for all and the transformative impact they have on communities.

Hands joined around a table with phone, paper, pen and glasses

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom


by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue


by Best Lawyers

The 2021 Global Issue features top legal talent from the most recent editions of Best Lawyers and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch worldwide.

2021 Best Lawyers: The Global Issue

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023


by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

The Upcycle Conundrum


by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2024 Launch


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce The Best Lawyers in Australia™ for 2023, including the top lawyers and law firms from Australia.

Australian Parliament beside water at sunset

Best Lawyers Voting Is Now Open


by Best Lawyers

Voting has begun in several countries across the globe, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. Below we offer dates, details and answers to voting-related questions to assist with the voting process.

Hands holding smartphone with five stars above phone

Inflation Escalation


by Ashley S. Wagner

Inflation and rising costs are at the forefront of everyone’s mind as we enter 2023. The current volatile market makes it more important than ever to understand the rent escalation clauses in current and future commercial lease agreements.

Suited figure in front of rising market and inflated balloon

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers


by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US

A Celebration of Excellence: The Best Lawyers in Canada 2024 Awards


by Best Lawyers

As we embark on the 18th edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada™, we are excited to highlight excellence and top legal talent across the country.

Abstract image of red and white Canada flag in triangles

Announcing The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2024


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce the landmark 15th edition of The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ for 2024, including the exclusive "Law Firm of the Year" awards.

Sky view of South Africa town and waterways

Presenting the 2024 Best Lawyers Family Law Legal Guide


by Best Lawyers

The 2024 Best Lawyers Family Law Legal Guide is now live and includes recognitions for all Best Lawyers family law awards. Read below and explore the legal guide.

Man entering home and hugging two children in doorway