Legal reviews are notorious for being time-consuming and resource-intensive. Complex e-discovery productions can contain thousands of files that must be properly sorted, analyzed and reviewed, all by the court’s deadline.

This process alone can be challenging—and becomes even more so when your discovery crosses international borders. Adding translation into your e-discovery brings with it an entirely new set of challenges, including understanding the delicate nuances of the language you’re translating.

There’s more to a proper translation than simply feeding words through a machine and seeing what comes out the other end.

Quality translations include the cultural context of the source material. When litigators review productions, the situational context of each piece of data is vitally important to the relevance of the document. Idioms, cultural references, and local sayings typically are missed with simple word-for-word translation. For example, criminals use code words to keep things under wraps. Phrases like “coffee money” or “wet my beak” seem innocuous out of context, but indicate guilt when the right cultural code is applied. The intricacies of foreign languages present serious problems for basic machine translators and attorneys who lack the appropriate contextual information.

Cracking the Code

Deciphering the cultural code during international e-discovery is no easy feat. Machines can only go so far, and non-native speakers have difficulty uncovering hidden meanings in messages. Native speakers are the best solution when a more personal and in-depth document assessment is needed.

Aside from leveraging the cultural insight of native speakers, there are several other tricks you can use to help crack the cultural code:

Cull Data Sets in Advance: E-discovery is all about efficiency; 60 to 80 percent of e-discovery costs are attributable to the search and review process. Adding translation services increases this cost. Culling your foreign language data sets in advance helps you determine which content is most valuable and worthy of your time. Begin by identifying English keywords first, then identify equivalent key terms and phrases in the local language, and lastly run the related keywords through your data sets to identify potential matches. Often times, utilizing in-region counsel can help to determine the appropriate terms and phrases and minimize the net amount of translation necessary.

Maintain Security: Legal discoveries are hotbeds of privileged information. Maintaining confidentiality of secure documents should be a priority for all litigators, particularly when multiple countries are involved. To avoid international legal pitfalls congesting your already-complex review, do your research on what extra paperwork or permissions might be necessary during document production.

Cross-Check Your Data: Making a mistake during legal discovery can cost your client the case. Check your translated information against your previously culled data sets to ensure you’ve covered all your bases. Even a small indexing mistake or typographical error can leave thousands of relevant documents unsorted and unusable.

Cross-border language translations are more involved than simple keyword analysis. Machine algorithms can analyze trends and patterns, but the initial screening will be more efficient and effective with a translation professional at the helm. When possible, work with an in-region linguist who also has legal experience. Native speakers understand the terminology used by their cohorts, and can even provide insider insight on related cultural keywords that your team may not have considered. Awareness of cultural issues during international e-discovery is the first step towards building an integrated legal review system and improving information governance overall.

As EVP and general manager at VIA, Scott works with legal, compliance, eLearning and related business users from some of the largest companies in the world to provide the highest quality translations.