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AI Translation and Professional Legal Translation Services

The value of translation companies in the age of generative AI

The increasing abilities of generative artificial intelligence (AI), especially ChatGPT, has dramatically changed the legal field. Similar to LegalZoom, generative AI assists with some of the services that previously only lawyers could provide. For example, it’s possible to ask ChatGPT for basic legal advice. Lawyers are even using ChatGPT to write briefs, as this article explores. The tool has also helped lawyers become faster and more efficient in their work, handling initial research and drafting of documents. However, in some legal translation scenarios, generative AI can’t (and shouldn’t) be used without at least some intervention from human experts. These are four reasons AI translation should enhance, not replace, professional legal translation services.

#1 A Human Reviewer Must Take the Legal Responsibility that AI Translation Can’t

In many — if not most — circumstances requiring legal document translation, it’s critical for the translation provider to be legally responsible for its quality. This legal and ethical standard helps protect all parties involved in legal matters. (Note: if you consult ChatGPT for legal advice, it will tell you it’s “unethical” to provide it — even if it is accurate. ChatGPT gives this disclaimer because it isn’t a lawyer with liability and the responsibility to provide solid legal advice.) While generative AI can assist with a translation, guaranteeing its completeness and accuracy requires a human reviewer (or multiple) to be liable. Generative AI cannot be:

  • Sued
  • Sanctioned
  • Charged with contempt of court
  • Given any other penalties for inaccurate translation

While AI translation may (and should) be embraced as part of the legal translation process, a translation company must be used to meet the liability requirements needed for legal translations. There are two main ways to obtain a legal translation for official purposes.

Sworn Translation: This designation means the translation meets official criteria for legal circumstances, governmental requirements, or administrative purposes. (Sometimes, a sworn translation may be optional, but some courts and law firms may prefer them.) The criterion for a sworn translation varies from location to location, but it typically requires the translator to be certified as a “sworn translator” by a court or government body. In some processes, they may be required to swear an oath or complete a test. The process for obtaining a sworn translation clarifies who is liable if a translation is wrong or problematic: the translator. Currently, these countries require sworn translation for various legal circumstances:

  • Spain
  • France
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • The Netherlands

Certified Translations: Courts and tribunals worldwide may require “certified translations” in legal scenarios. Frequently, to certify a translation, a translator must attest to the accuracy of the translation. This process often makes the translator liable if the quality of the translation isn’t high enough. The translator may be held responsible if a document isn’t accurately translated. In extreme cases, the translator may even be charged with perjury, negligence, or contempt of court if they’ve translated a document inaccurately or incompletely. When a translation company like Lionbridge provides a certified translation, they will be accountable for the quality, including choosing the most qualified translator for the document, conducting all post-translation quality checks, etc.

Professional reviewing legal translation services

#2 Complex Legal Matters Necessitate Human Reviewers or Translators

The ability to reason is crucial when handling legal translation for complex materials. There are myriad factors generative AI can’t reason as well as human legal translators or reviewers. They include:

  • The (profound) impact of clause or word changes in documents like contracts
  • Colloquialisms
  • New case law and interpretations, as the law is generally more unstable than static
  • Laws governing specific legal procedures vary significantly by country and city
  • General background on the industry involved, including its terminology and standard practices
  • Socio-cultural backgrounds, which typically impact legal proceedings with multiple locations
  • Legal terminology, with its deeply particularized meanings
  • Legal terminology changes from country to country (the same word may mean something different from place to place)
  • Sentence structure in legal documents, typically involving the passive voice and long, complex, compound sentences. Some languages favor the active voice or short sentences.

Generative AI can’t think critically or creatively; it only parrots what it has learned. A certified legal translation services provider, like Lionbridge, can train generative AI technology with a base of relevant legal knowledge. They can then use the technology to assist with legal translation. Translation companies can (and should) use generative AI to make the legal translation process more efficient, especially at high volumes. However, to accurately complete legal translation for a complex matter (especially across multiple languages or countries), it’s vital to include a human legal translator or reviewer who is ready to respond to the myriad of complicated factors that affect legal translation — especially when the content and circumstances are complex and include multiple countries, languages, legal systems, cultures, etc.

#3 Sometimes a Human Reviewer Must Address Generative AI’s Errors

Meticulous accuracy is part of the foundation of effective legal translation. For some formal documents submitted in a court setting, human reviewers can be essential to ensure legal translation accuracy. This is because generative AI may sometimes provide incorrect information. Generative AI has a strong track record for translating correctly, but it has been known to occasionally generate errors. In a legal translation, just one small error may cause devastating issues. For example:

  • A contract yielded ineffective
  • A brief becomes less trustworthy due to one mistake
  • A law misinterpreted and misapplied

A human reviewer from a translation company like Lionbridge can catch and correct errors, or “hallucinations,” that generative AI creates. These hallucinations occur because generative AI sometimes misinterprets instructions or prompts from the translator. In response, it produces output that isn’t real and doesn’t match any of the information the technology was trained with. Even with impeccable training and coding, AI algorithms will continue to hallucinate occasionally.

In addition to hallucinations, it’s important to note that generative AI is not perfectly trained or prepared to translate in all languages yet. While it can deftly translate in commonly used languages, it hasn’t “learned” the more uncommon ones yet — at least, not to a native-speaker level. A human reviewer is essential when conducting legal translation for a language generative AI hasn’t fully learned yet. Taken together, generative AI’s hallucinations and lack of incomplete understanding of some languages make translation companies and their expertise crucial to the legal translation process.

#4 A Translation Company Can Solve Your Logistical Challenges

While generative AI can make your legal translation more efficient and save on costs, it doesn’t have the expertise and experience to handle the complexities of transferring legal documents securely and compliantly. Typically, legal documents must be protected from potential hacking and cyber-attacks. In the U.S., the Duty of Confidentiality requires law firms to protect their clients’ data (primarily related to their representation). Laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) may impact sharing and transference of legal documents. Additionally, a country’s laws may completely prevent the transfer of some data in or out (as in China’s recent Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL)). Translation companies like Lionbridge have decades of experience developing solutions to handle any volume of legal content and documents in a secure, compliant manner. Generative AI may assist a translation company, but can’t replace a proactive, reliable dedication to customer service

Lawbooks and a digital overlay

Another consideration is legal interpreting services. To ensure the best quality and reduce costs, it helps to use the same language service provider for both the legal interpreting services and translation required on a matter. The language service provider can ensure they use the same glossaries, documents, and background info for their interpreting and translation services. This may help a law firm:

  • Ensure consistency throughout its written and verbal communications
  • Defray costs
  • Reduce administrative burden

Generative AI can assist a language provider with translation tasks, but it can’t also provide legal interpreting, especially in highly regulated court settings.

Get in touch

Want to find out more about how Lionbridge’s translation services for legal documents can help your organization? Need assistance with legal translation or interpreting needs? We have decades of experience and innovative new technology to tailor language services solutions to your unique needs. Get in touch today.

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Samantha Keefe
  • #legal_services
  • #technology
  • #translation_localization
  • #ai
  • #generative-ai
  • #blog_posts