Fondation EURACTIV is supporting multilingualism and innovation in language technology. Leveraging machine translation and expert skills, attorneys could gather more evidence and address more efficiently multilingual litigation and international cases.


Discovery, in legal terms, is the pre-trial phase of a case during which attorneys gather evidence, sometimes from one another, using various means. E-discovery, originally conceived in 1970 via an amendment to the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, involves gathering available “data compilations”, or electronically stored information (ESI), as evidence.

During the early years of e-discovery’s existence, very few cases relied on the process. That’s changed substantially in recent times. Evidence uncovered during e-discovery often includes emails, websites, instant messenger conversations, and related data. The rise of these technologies has made e-discovery a vital process to a wide range of cases.

However, with so much ESI to gather, it can be difficult for attorneys to pinpoint the necessary data and information. This is especially true in cases that involve international or multilingual litigation. Attorneys must not only find the necessary ESI, but also determine whether or not it’s relevant to a case. When the ESI is in another language, this can pose unique difficulties.

The Challenges of International Cases

The fact that the European Union’s policies don’t match those of the United States certainly doesn’t make the process any easier. In the US, laws restricting the sharing of personal data or information are far more lenient than those of the EU. Although some institutions, like banks, are prohibited from sharing or transferring customer data without permission, US law largely permits organizations to share whatever information a customer freely provides.

This isn’t the case in the EU, where strict personal privacy laws make it difficult to obtain certain types of ESI. Attorneys must work diligently to prove key standards have been met before they can gain access to information or data that might be considered private.

Obviously, this adds even more time to the already lengthy litigation process. Once a law firm manages to actually collect the evidence it needs, it may still be necessary to translate it. That’s why attorneys should use media translation technologies designed to boost their efficiency.

The Benefits of Machine Translation

Machine Translation (MT) technology can quickly translate the text of a document from one language to another. While anyone who has ever used an online translator knows the results will be far from perfect, MT can still be useful to attorneys in scenarios like these:

  • Getting the basic “gist” of a piece of evidence. Again, once a law firm collects ESI in a foreign language, the staff must then review it to determine what pieces of evidence are relevant, and how they can be used to strengthen a case. The translation provided via MT can’t be used in any official capacity, but it can help staff review evidence more quickly during the initial stages.
  • Translating technical documents. MT’s primary weakness is its inability to process the cultural nuances of language. These technologies essentially provide literal, word-for-word translations. Thus, they are more effectively used in converting documents that feature clinical, technical language.
  • Preparing ESI for translation experts. At this point in history, no technology is capable of replacing a human translator. That said, MT can reduce the workload of human translators; instead of translating the entirety of a document, the team can simply edit it after it’s been processed through an MT program.

This last point is worth keeping in mind. Attorneys that regularly deal in multilingual litigation shouldn’t allow the language barrier to reduce their overall efficiency, especially when one considers the fact that international cases are becoming much more commonplace.

Instead, they should consult with professionals to ensure evidence is translated as quickly as possible. By leveraging the power of MT alongside the skills of an expert, they can reduce the amount of time wasted translating documents.

In an age where e-discovery can yield tremendous amounts of evidence, those resources are more useful than ever, especially when the process of navigating the EU’s regulations forces attorneys to spend even more time building a case.


Rachel Wheeler


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