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Machine Translation for Legal Translations

When to use it, when not to

Generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, are exciting and headline-grabbing. For law firms and lawyers with multilingual matters, though, Machine Translation is still the most staggering development for legal translations. Machine Translation from a legal translation services provider is trustworthy and secure, unlike free tools such as Google Translate or ChatGPT. Lionbridge’s tools include innovative security and privacy features that ensure sensitive client data is identified, protected, and never stored on the cloud or our servers. Machine Translation (often referred to as MT) helps law firms obtain the legal translation they need faster, reduce costs, and ensure compliance and data privacy. However, MT, or MT alone, isn’t always the best solution for legal document translation needs. Here are the scenarios when you should, and should not, use MT as part of your legal translation plan.

Don’t Use Unedited Machine Translation (Maybe at All) When Submitting Documents to Court

Unedited Machine Translation is not precise enough for the rigorous standards required by a court setting. Court documents must be in the cleanest, most formal state so all parties can use them. A poor translation can result in wrongful convictions, evidence being thrown out, an entire case being thrown out, extensive financial and emotional costs, and more. Lawyers should never trust unedited Machine Translation for documents they’ll submit to court. This is especially true if the documents contain these items, which are often too complicated for Machine Translation to deftly handle without a human reviewer:

  • Cultural nuances
  • Idioms
  • Creative metaphors and writing
  • Complex legalese
  • Documentation with no room for error, such as contracts
  • Text requiring industry-specific knowledge (or for multiple industries)
  • Emotive language
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In many circumstances, lawyers aren’t strictly forbidden from using MT. However, using a human translator will strengthen a lawyer’s case. Submitting the highest quality human translations shows that the lawyer has done their due diligence and their documents are trustworthy. As mentioned above, legalese often requires an understanding of nuances that only humans have. The same is true for the many documents that include cultural and industry-specific language.

Additionally, using a human translator can ensure privacy for confidential data. This is a fundamental duty every law firm owes its clients. Translation companies like Lionbridge use innovative methods and technology to ensure data security (even if they use MT). Less stringent translation companies and free MT tools may open clients up to security breaches. Often, free MT tools store translated content in the cloud, where anybody can access it.

Notably, some courts, legal systems, or even judges will completely ban the usage of MT or unedited MT via strict restrictions or guidelines. These are three examples.

Examples of Legal Systems Banning Unedited MT

1. U.S. states with sizable populations of Spanish speakers have been forced to consider MT’s impact more frequently. The state court of New Mexico’s guidelines ban unedited MT materials for formal purposes, such as court proceedings or exhibits.

2. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada doesn’t allow MT for submitted documents, as all translations need to be translated by a certified translator or include an affidavit that swears to the accuracy of the translation and the translators’ language proficiency.

3. Documents that must be officially certified for court or VISA purposes, such as birth, death, and marriage certificates, typically cannot be translated with MT.

Use Machine Translation for eDiscovery

Machine Translation is perfectly suited for eDiscovery, especially when the content being translated is:

  • Voluminous
  • Only intended for internal discovery purposes
  • In multiple languages
  • In unidentified languages
  • In more obscure, rare languages

MT cuts costs and timelines dramatically. In conjunction with other translation tools, it can scan multilingual content, identify important data with keyword searches, and translate it. MT can even help determine in which language a document is written. These capabilities are crucial for handling the terabytes of electronic data that law firms often must examine for a single case or legal matter. This data could include:

  • Emails
  • Spreadsheets
  • Voicemails
  • Texts
  • Presentations
  • Digital documents

Though MT may produce some errors, it generates more accurate, consistent translations when used by a skilled legal translation provider. This is especially true when a law firm can provide a glossary, or list of common terminology. As an additional benefit, the legal translation provider may utilize Translation Memories to speed up the eDiscovery process, and any future translations, for the same case.

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Use Machine Translation for Matters Pertaining to Patents

As previously mentioned, translated material submitted to a court or for official legal reasons will require a human reviewer or translator. However, in some instances, using MT for legal translation is encouraged. This often occurs when the courts or legal systems know the sheer volume of documentation will be extensive, or there is an imperative to make information available to many people who speak many languages. Patents are a good illustration of circumstances where using Machine Translation is encouraged. Here are some examples:

Patent Examples

1. The Manual of Patent Examining Procedure of the United States Patent and Trademark Office allows the use of MT in support of a rejection.

2. The European Patent Office (EPO) worked with Google to create a Machine Translation service for patent documents. They did this because there are so many languages spoken in the EU. Lawmakers are encouraging the use of Machine Translation to ensure people across the EU can look up patents, no matter what language they speak.

Use Machine Translation to Help Meet Tight Deadlines

Nearly every jurisdiction requires lawyers to meet tight deadlines. These include:

  • Discovery deadlines
  • Trial deadlines
  • Statutes of limitations
  • Filing deadlines
  • FCPA submissions
  • Second Requests (for compliance with Antitrust Law)

Consequences for missing a deadline could include fines, delays in a case, or even dismissal of a case. Missing a deadline is often grounds for a malpractice suit. When allowed by the court, Machine Translation can be crucial to meeting deadlines. Lionbridge offers Machine Translation services to assist with all these deadlines, but we have specialized in solutions for FCPA submissions, helping companies ensure compliance and earn cooperation credit from the DOJ. We’re also known experts in Antitrust matters, offering Machine Translation solutions to help with quick turnaround on Second Requests.

Get in touch

Learn more about how Lionbridge’s translation services for legal documents can help you and your clients. We offer assistance with legal translation or interpreting needs. Lionbridge has decades of experience and innovative technology to help us tailor language services solutions to your unique needs. Get in touch today.

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Samantha Keefe and Abby Camacho, Global Program Director of Legal Services
Samantha Keefe and Abby Camacho, Global Program Director of Legal Services
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