Managing the Rising Need for Translation Services in Legal Departments, Firms

June / July 2012
By Ty Cobb and Eric Elting
Executive Counsel

The demand for multilingual translation in legal departments and law firms is on the rise. As a global law firm, Hogan Lovells frequently needs support from outside service and technology firms to meet its global caseload demands. Multilingual support is often required in various areas such as court reporting, e-discovery for litigation, and virtual data rooms for mergers and acquisitions and bankruptcy cases. In every case, achieving fast turnaround times with error-free results is of utmost importance to the firm and its clients.

One need only look at the process of an anti-trust second request to see how much the standard for translation has changed. Until recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) viewed the matter of non-English-language documents during the discovery process with a certain amount of flexibility. If, for example, a company embarking on a merger had 500 documents in 12 different languages that the company represented were most likely not relevant to the deal, the FTC was often willing to take the company’s word for it. Today, the FTC wants to see translated documents. That adds another layer of complexity for legal departments and law firms working with multinational companies and clients. Second request expectations and other trends in the market are forcing lawyers to tackle the problem of translation.

Or consider the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which is another factor in the growing need for translation processes. To safeguard against international bribery, legal representatives are now tasked with proving their compliance efforts not only in their U.S. headquarters, but also their foreign operations, to regulators. The ability to do that hinges on access to translated documentation of business practices abroad.

For companies and firms conducting business in multiple international regions, translation presents steep challenges related to cost and efficiency. Overcoming those challenges requires the right mix of technological and human support.

Translation Options That Meet Legal Standards

In a field that demands precision, the idea of machine translation (MT) can seem like an anathema. However, MT may be an essential part of the equation for managing the deluge of multilingual documents involved in discovery, mergers, and other legal processes. Relying on MT for triage early on in the translation process is one option. When a legal department or firm is faced with tens of thousands of documents in foreign languages and must determine which warrant careful translation and which are irrelevant, MT is very helpful. One option is to use MT early in the discovery process to give case teams a certain degree of English operability within the foreign language documents. This work product can be coupled with various technologies to help cull down the data set to a more manageable size, including early case assessment (ECA) platforms. At that point, human experts can carefully translate a smaller set of documents.

Another solution combines MT for a quick initial translation, followed by attorney-assisted document review to further narrow the universe of relevant documents and determine whether the document is responsive to the particular subject matter. Only then is more resource demanding human translation (HT) used to review and correct basic spelling and grammar issues. By integrating multiple forms of translation, firms can reduce costs without affecting accuracy.

Faced with any case involving foreign language issues, lawyers should be aware of the main options for translation and when to employ each one. A translation solutions partner can design an appropriate workflow that starts with machine translation for rapid review of astronomical amounts of data. Then, the same partner can offer a team of experienced, human experts or document reviewers for more accurate, thorough translation and review of the most critical documents involved in discovery. Here’s a closer look at how Hogan Lovells finds success with translation services.

A Case Study in Translation Success

Hogan Lovells frequently requires workflow development, like that defined above, to determine the best document translation process for each individual case. Recently, it faced a case that tested its ability to work across and beyond language barriers. The firm had a second request that involved 400 documents in 12 languages, and only three days before a critical government deadline. Hogan Lovells worked with TransPerfect Legal Solutions to manage resources for this task, culling through the less important documents with MT and calling on human experts to meticulously translate the information that was vital to the case.

A current case, involving a Chinese FCPA investigation, requires the translation of relevant documents from Chinese into English so the U.S. attorneys can read and assess the documents. International companies need attorneys that can practice law in the U.S., so they value hiring U.S.-based counsel. Because this is a common practice, translation becomes important in collaborating between the company abroad and the U.S. counsel.  In this case, translation adds significant value in the counsel’s analysis of whether the company is in violation of the FCPA.

Translation factors into much of the firm’s pro bono work, as well. Translation services enable Hogan Lovells to take on Spanish-speaking clients and partner with organizations that assist refugees overseas. If cases require translation of birth certificates, verbal testimony or other documentation, we have a process to achieve it. Translation has also become an integral part of the firm’s intellectual property practice, where multilingual patent litigation is becoming more prevalent.

With machine translation technology, law firms can quickly translate material to get the basic gist of the content and determine whether or not documents merit more accurate human translation. Integrated machine translation assists in this process, greatly benefiting legal professionals who regularly deal with multi-language discovery.

Ty Cobb is a partner at Hogan Lovells, practicing principally in the areas of white collar criminal litigation, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement, Congressional investigations and hearings, and related complex civil litigation.

Eric Elting is the director of global legal and patent business development for TransPerfect Legal Solutions. Under his tutelage, TransPerfect Legal Solutions has provided services to all of the Am Law 200 and Global 100 law firms, as well as to virtually every Fortune 500 corporate legal department. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a BA in Communications.