How to get an idea of what documents need to be translated for a case/transaction while preserving their confidentiality.


Following my post on the Dangers of using Google Translate for confidential documents, you may well ask what is the alternative if I want to know which documents require professional translation?

I hear you and I know that clients are often difficult with fees, especially at the beginning of a transaction or a case. They also hate “add on” items to the scope of work originally agreed that affect the agreed fee.

So what are your options? You can….

  1. Ask your bilingual staff to go through the documents. The document stays in-house and this seems to be the cheapest option. Their time can either be billed to the client or written-off, depending on the partner’s decision (and the existence of a conditional fee agreement and insurance). I firmly believe that this is not the best use of a bilingual member of staff’s time and that it will ultimately cost the law firm more than outsourcing would have done. You can read a post where I explain the reasons for this here.
  2. Invest in machine translation software. With this option, the documents and their preliminary translations can be stored locally. This may be the best solution for you if you often need to get an idea of the contents of documents. It will involve the cost of buying the software (including advice on which software to use as some will use Cloud storage), setting it up, training the people using it and installing regular updates (often yearly). Bear in mind that you would still need someone from your team to review the translations and select the documents on the basis of the translation obtained from the software.
  3. Hire a professional to go through the initial set of documents and to help you choose which ones to translate. This is a relatively new service that translation companies offer. They can either send you someone on site or use a data room that has a limited number of translators (who have, of course, all signed confidentiality agreements). The translators involved should really be specialised in legal translation. Law firms will always give guidelines on which documents to put aside (e.g. any document containing some names, agreements, etc.) but having done this as a trainee for my law firm, there are some documents that may not contain any of the references from the list that are still relevant. This is the most expensive option of the three but also the least stressful and time-consuming for the law firm. It costs a fraction of what the fee would be for translating all the documents and involves less time as the translators can whiz through the documents and your team only has to go through a smaller selection of documents. If you want to save the agency fee, you can ask freelance translators to do this instead but bear in mind that they are less likely to be available to come on site and you would probably need to set up the data-room for them (law firms can usually do this).

I hope the above has given you some ideas of how to get the gist of a document while retaining control over confidentiality.


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