Translation and Litigation

When in litigation, knowing the exact contents of e-mails, faxes, letters, and other documents is crucial, but tough when they're in a language other than your own.

Take David Kessler. The Drinker Biddle & Reath partner remembers working on one matter involving a multinational company. Although most of the discovery was in English, the legal team found that a few of the company's employees e-mailed each other in an Eastern European language. Thinking that it was odd, they decided to use machine translation to get a sense of what the messages said. They turned out to be linchpins in the case -- and Kessler learned something important about translation technology.

"Machine translations are not very good at idioms, not very good in context, but they can be useful in terms of getting a sense of the document to let you decide if you want to spend more money," Kessler says.

In an increasingly global economy, a single matter can involve a variety of languages. Unfortunately, it can be costly translating the documents. Many corporations have found that translation technology and e-discovery tools supporting multiple languages are important tools in constraining budgets -- and winning cases. But there are also drawbacks. Used incorrectly, the software can fail to save time, increase some translation costs, and even overlook documents in an e-discovery keyword search.