Whatever area of law you practice, you can be sure that sooner or later you will face a language barrier. In the United States, an increasing number of people speak a foreign language almost exclusively or have limited English proficiency.
The rise of the “global village” means that more and more business is being transacted across borders, leading to an increasing number of cross-border transactions, cross-border litigation, foreign asset recovery and other legal activity. Therefore, you may face an increasing number of cases that include small or large amounts of foreign documents, which means that you must find the best and most cost-effective way to get them translated.
The Rise of the Robot
The arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) has taken the world by storm. AI is disrupting the way we all work, including lawyers. This is not a bad development, as there are many efficiencies that can be achieved in a law firm by automating work that can free lawyers to work on more important tasks. But artificial intelligence is not going to replace lawyers any time soon.
AI is also making translation more accessible to everyone. We all know about Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, DeepL and other machine translation engines, and everybody in the world uses them. In fact, more than half a billion people use Google Translate every day to translate from and into 133 languages.
Machine translation is not a new phenomenon; in fact, it’s been around since the 1940s. But the launch of Neural Machine Translation (NMT) by Google in 2016 took things to a whole new level. NMT closely resembles human translation because unlike previous models, it’s not based on rules or statistical data. NMT translates like the human brain does, with the aid of deep machine learning.
NMT is actually quite good. It’s an amazing tool being used right now by global companies that do business in a wide range of geographic locations. Companies like Amazon, AirBnB and other global behemoths that monitor user experience rely on machine translation to keep up with the sheer volume of multilanguage content generated by their global customers. There are not enough translators in the world to handle the untold billions of daily words created in multiple languages –and not enough money in the world to pay them.
This brings up an important point. The reason NMT works well for this massive content is that the translations don’t have to be perfect –they just need to give the customer experience managers an idea of what’s being said. Much like AI’s legal applications help lawyers work more efficiently but won’t replace them, NMT can offer tremendous help by translating large or small amounts of documents when you just need to get an idea of what’s being said, in order to figure out exactly what documents will help your case. When official or certified translations are needed, that’s the time to go to the expert human translators.
The Caveats of AI and Legal Translation
There have been cases where confidential information was uploaded to a public NMT that was later found to be searchable, and therefore accessible to the public. In the same 2021 case mentioned above, it was determined that the use of public machine translation constituted a breach of client confidentiality.
As good as NMT is, there’ a time and a place for it. And you need to be aware of two important drawbacks of this powerful technology:
- Accuracy. NMT is still capable of committing serious mistakes. It doesn’t understand context, legal intricacies or cultural nuance. The output is often robotic and choppy, and it often introduces inaccuracies. A mistranslation due to NMT could work against you in court or in front of a judge. The outcome of a 2021 court case on the improper use of machine translation was that the translation was not “fit for professional use” due to the lack of human review.
- Confidentiality. NMT engines like Google Translate and others who offer public browsers take the information you input and add it to their corpora, or their “vocabulary.” There have been cases where confidential information was uploaded to a public NMT that was later found to be searchable, and therefore accessible to the public. In the same 2021 case mentioned above, it was determined that the use of public machine translation constituted a breach of client confidentiality. Even Google, in its privacy policies, states that “we use your information to make improvements to our services.”
Hire An Expert to Help You
But what if you don’t have access to a licensed product that can provide the NMT for you while assuring confidentiality?
Unless you work with a global law firm that has extensive resources and handles translation at scale, you probably don’t have access to the required tools. A competent, experienced translation agency (such as TransForma) can help you not just with proper NMT, but with certified translation.