Multilingual Challenges in the Legal Sector

Christophe Djaouani is President of Toppan Digital Language where he focuses on driving the go-to-market strategy and direction, running high level operations and providing motivating leadership. He has 21 years industry experience serving Fortune 500 and customers in highly regulated industries. Christophe holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Florida International University.

In my final Rules of the Trade column, I am focusing on the specific needs of the legal sector in embracing the challenges presented by multilingual content. It is a very good place to end my discussions about the specific requirements of heavily regulated industries because not only does the legal sector continue to grow rapidly on a global scale but so does the complexity of managing an ever-increasing caseload with an international flavor.

There is no question that the globalization of business brings with it many incredible opportunities for growth, expansion into new markets, and cultural learning from every continent.  But it also creates an often convoluted landscape in which that business takes place — and that is where openings emerge for language service providers operating in the legal space.

Opportunities aplenty — but experience is everything

International commerce and international crime are creating a wave of contracts and casework for law firms and corporate legal departments.

In simple terms, the complexities of cross-border commercial agreements increase the length of contracts and require lawyers to ensure that not only are their documents watertight but that they also meet the legal obligations of all appropriate jurisdictions. It goes without saying that the translator’s role in this process is absolutely critical — there can be no margin for error. They must apply their technical subject matter expertise, their experience, and their client-facing skills to ensure that the end result is as good as the original document.

Likewise, litigation between commercial parties, or between a government or regulator and a multinational company, may demand that documentation from all over the world is made admissible as evidence. A law firm or general counsel is rarely able to stand up the necessary resources for this in the aggressive timescales often given — they must turn to outside experts to assist in scaling with the challenge.

On the more nefarious side, both individuals and organized crime syndicates often cloak their illicit activities in convoluted paper trails that stretch across countries and continents. In fighting this, corporations and law enforcement agencies are forced to employ multilingual capabilities for initiatives like anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) to uncover, prevent, and prosecute illegal actions.

The fast-growing appetite for legaltech

This brings in the opportunity for technology to play a key role in overcoming obstacles like volume of documentation, security, and confidentiality. Legaltech is employed across a very broad set of practice areas in the legal sector but one of the key applications from a language perspective is the use of machine translation (MT).

Enabling a rapid throughput of documentation — in multiple formats, from numerous sources and across a large number of languages — allows law firms and corporate legal departments to accelerate understanding more effectively than with large teams of human translators. This creates enormous efficiencies in the quality of service given to clients, enabling increased cost-competitiveness but also, more importantly, allowing lawyers to focus on providing expert counsel.

Moreover, when MT is integrated with ediscovery platforms that are already firmly established within the legaltech land-scape, the combination of technology and service capabilities is transformative. Now, lawyers no longer need to be put off by the challenge of complicated cross-border investigations — the combined power of MT and ediscovery performs the heavy lifting in translating huge volumes of documentation in the hunt for evidence. The “smoking gun” is made easier to identify and the overall complexity of a case considerably reduced so that humans can take over the building of a defense or prosecution.

This does not remove humans from the process though. Human-in-the-loop (HITL) and machine translation post-editing (MTPE) become focused instead on the reduced volume of documentation that has been triaged during ediscovery. The knowledge of experienced legal subject matter experts is more effectively employed in the accurate translation of the nuances in content — be they contracts, forms, emails, chats, or other pieces of documentary evidence — that can subsequently be used to strengthen a case or build a defense.

Positive change through innovation 

This neatly illustrates the direction of travel in the language industry, particularly where translators are working with regulated industries clients. The future involves continual adjustment of the balance between machine and human — part of the paradigm that CSA Research calls augmented translation. Yet, the nature of language — the ever-changing  cultural nuances, the evolving meaning of words and phrases, the unique context in which many languages exchanges take place — means that humans will always be required to deliver against the demands of the “last mile” of translation, especially in industries where quality and accuracy can mean the differ-ence between truth and misrepresentation.

Likewise, despite the limitations on human contact caused by COVID, there is still a very important place for human interpreters’ particular skills, as well. We have witnessed an increased need for the services of interpreters in the critical legal areas of negotiation, arbitration, and mediation for instance — technology can only go so far in replacing these areas of expertise.

People and technology working in harmony

I will end this series on that positive note. Technology continues to provide exciting opportunities — it is exciting, transformative, revolutionary. But it is not the only part of the story. The language industry has been built by people, for people, and performs an incredibly important role in enabling understanding between people across the world.

The promise of artificial intelligence and machine learning is truly inspiring, not least of all for regulated industries where the stakes are arguably higher than for some verticals, but the critical human element of language will remain. Humans will continue to define, evolve, and develop meaning through language, and the skills of linguists in navigating that journey will be crucial to bringing people together through communication.