In today’s world, small and large businesses alike are under intense pressure to reduce costs and maximize efficiency. Businesses seek overhead advantages over their competitors through the use of technology; and, like any other business, law firms are just as strained.
Therefore, more and more firms are not only resorting to Document Management Software to be able to organize and store files more efficiently, but also to business process management software (BPM) and standard operating procedures (SOP) to track workflows, compare documents, manage multi-person document reviews, create citation tables, organize discovery documents, and reduce all other costs that cannot be easily identified in any job or process.
Thus, it is no surprise that hundreds of document automation platforms have been developed specifically to cater to the needs of law firms; nor is it a surprise that firms have developed standard forms or templates for much of their routine legal work, making minimal adjustments to meet the specific needs of their clients. Firms reuse and recycle privacy policies, terms and conditions, return/refund policies, cookies policies, and similar standard text on a daily basis to increase efficiency, reduce error margins, and bring down internal costs.
It is very often that this work needs be rendered in one or more languages; and, when it does, it only makes sense for law firms to work with translators who, in turn, have also sharpened their internal processes. But how do translators do that and meet the needs of law firms? In many cases, including mine, we use Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) Tools (not to be confused with Machine Translation).
1. Maximizing Productivity on Routine Work
Routine or highly repetitive tasks in a law firm translate into routine or highly repetitive texts for translation. Because CAT Tools involve the use of Translation Memories (TMs), they are key to optimizing translation workflows by helping translators identify repeated or similar text across files and throughout time.
Translation Memories are a lot like clause libraries, except they are multilingual and save translators the time of having to search, retype or manually copy/paste. They find exact matches or near matches for sentences in a legal document and “show” the translator how he or she translated that text in the past, allowing the translator to then pull up previous translations and decide what to throw away, keep, and/or modify.
The more standard documents a firm sends the same translator, the larger the translator’s client-specific (or subject-specific) TM will grow. This helps the translator ensure consistency across multiple documents (or the same document which has been modified several times) while increasing daily output.
Like contract templates, which can be leveraged through a centralized repository, TMs can also be leveraged (and even reverse leveraged) to index matched documents, instead of just individual sentences or “segments.” The translator can then identify matches, view different linguistic contexts of the same or similar text, and review meaning, style, tone, and other linguistic nuances quickly and effectively.
2. Assisting with Terminological Consistency
Translation work involves a great deal of research. Legal translation does not just mean translating between two languages, but also translating between legal systems, each of which has its own jargon and legal logic.
Everyday concepts like “the man on the Clapham omnibus” in one system (i.e. common law) can mean nothing to someone in a different system; and the translator’s task is not to translate word for word, but to find a true linguistic equivalent for the concept those words are conveying. This means finding a similar expression in the target language that a speaker of that language will understand the same way an English speaker would understand “the man in the Clapham omnibus,” even if that means forgetting about the man and the omnibus altogether.
Thus, legal translators don’t just focus on individual words, but view each text in a much broader context of the legal system in which it was created and into which it will be translated, rendering complex legal concepts intelligible across radically different legal backdrops.
The vocabulary a legal translator will use when translating a text from English to Spanish, for example, will vary depending on where in the Spanish-speaking world the translated text will be read. This is not just because Spanish varies between Spanish-speaking countries, but because not all Spanish speaking countries are under the same legal tradition.
Imagine a translated text that will be read in Argentina and Puerto Rico. While the translator may use similar style and structure for both locales, the terminology may differ significantly. Why? Because Argentina, though Spanish-speaking, is under a continental law system while Puerto Rico is under a common law system. Therefore, while a Spanish-speaking judge in Puerto Rico would ask him or herself what “the man in the Clapham omnibus” would do to determine whether or not a party’s actions were “reasonable,” a judge in Argentina would look up the definition and conditions of reasonability in the Civil and Commercial Code. The concept of reasonability will vary; and, in our hypothetical example, the translator’s job is to make sure everyone is on the same conceptual page. Whether one translator is localizing the text to both locales or two translators are working as a team, there will still be a significant amount of research involved.
CAT Tools help translators maximize our research time by enabling us to set our projects to specific locales (i.e. Spanish for Argentina, Spanish for Puerto Rico) and linking those projects to client-specific, locale-specific, or even subject-specific glossaries.
Though one could argue that confectioning a well-researched glossary with a CAT Tool does not take any less time than confectioning a glossary the old fashioned way, CAT Tools still present important advantages:
a) They can be set to highlight terms that we want to translate a specific way, helping us focus our attention while translating.
b) They can be set to autofill those words for us while we are typing, with the obvious time and effort saving advantage.
c) They can be set to point out inconsistencies in particular words and linked to verification and other quality assurance functions in each individual CAT Tool.
d) The same glossary can be used with multiple clients, when applicable, or the same client on multiple jobs.
e) Multiple glossaries can be used at the same time, for instance, we can create general glossaries for standard translation work and use it together with our client-specific and/or locale specific glossaries to meet a particular client’s specific needs. This allows us to maximize research time across projects and clients; and, more importantly, throughout the years, as our glossaries tend to grow exponentially.
3. Enabling Team Work
In complex international cases or transactions, law firms will often need very large documents (or a large number of documents of different sizes) to be translated very quickly; sometimes even too quickly for a single human being to be able to manage the full extent of the translation work in such tight time frames. When that is the case, many translators team up, with prior client knowledge and consent, to share the workload.
In such cases, when the information at hand is not extremely sensitive and the risk of information sharing is low, we use Live Translation Memories for real-time sharing of our work. This allows us all to benefit from what each member of the team is adding to the TM, while also contributing to the workload ourselves, saving us time and helping to ensure consistency, even when multiple translators are used.
In short, when used rationally and ethically, CAT Tools help translators do our jobs more quickly and efficiently, while meeting the harsh demands of today’s fast-paced world without sacrificing the integrity of the translated text. Firms benefit from our use of CAT Tools much the same way they benefit from their own internal time-saving, productivity-increasing, and process-optimization efforts.