Category: translation of legal documents

Does reputation matter?

What happens when a supreme court plugs MT into its website?

Check out the images below:

errors in translated name of supreme court errors in translated name of supreme court errors in translated name of supreme court

Remember we are talking about Greece’s most important court. Not just any old court.

Note that the court’s full and proper name already appears on its website in English.

It’s the MT plug-in that consistently gets it wrong.

The versions that appear in the reel are just some of the many different variants that it comes up with.

Words in law matter – even translated words

Critics will say, he’s going on again about MT, and that the translation is provided for information purposes only so there’s nothing to worry about.

Critics will also say that the court is offering the public a service, doing us a favour.

Are they?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact I’d say it’s a disservice. To reiterate: Words in law matter – even translated words

If the name of the court (something simple and straightforward) can’t be got consistently right, what does that say about the rest of the content generated?

Can anyone reading the machine-generated output think this is useful or helpful to them in any way?

When is a “service” not a service?

Let’s delve a little deeper into the idea that this is a service.

If you boil things down, a service is something you seek out, you pay for (typically) and which adds value.

A service involves doing something for someone that is valued.

It involves applying skill, competence and expertise for the benefit of another.

Providing automatically-translated versions of court judgments, while well-intentioned, hardly meets those requirements.

Broader considerations

It also raises several important legal policy and access to justice considerations.

Even if such translations are labelled as “for information purposes only” (often disclaimers like that are missing) and are viewed by some as better than no translation at all, there are valid counterarguments to consider:

Legal and Ethical Responsibility: Courts have a responsibility to ensure that their communications are clear, accurate, and accessible in the language of the court.

Why should that be any different if the court opts to provide translations?

Offering substandard translations could be seen as neglecting this responsibility, potentially undermining public trust in the judicial system.

Reliance and Legal Consequences:  Relying on machine translations for legal decision-making, even when they are marked as “for information purposes only,” poses significant risks, especially for those without access to professional translation services.

Court judgments, like other legal documents, are filled with complex terminology and nuanced language that machine translation often fails to accurately capture.

This can lead to misinterpretations about legal rights, obligations, and the judgment’s implications, resulting in incorrect decisions or unnecessary time and expense spent consulting legal advisors to correct misunderstandings.

Equal Access to Justice: Access to justice implies that everyone, regardless of language proficiency, should have equal access to legal information.

By providing low-quality translations, non-native speakers are disadvantaged, potentially violating the principle of equality before the law.

Recommendations

To address these issues, several recommendations could be considered:

Clear Disclaimers and Guidance: Provide clear disclaimers about the limitations of machine translations and guiding individuals to seek professional translation or legal advice for critical matters. 

Improving Translation Quality: Invest in higher-quality translation services, potentially combining machine translation with human review and editing, to ensure accuracy.

Consult with experts in legal translation: Develop a policy for your legal translations that helps reduce your exposure to reputational risk

… following on from yesterday’s post about AI essentials for lawyers with some thoughts on how that relates to legal translation

1. Generative AI in the Legal Sector: Legal translators have a head start here. They’ve been using neural machine translation (NMT) for several years now.

While it can be helpful in some instances, it may not fully grasp the nuances of legal language or be suitable for all legal documents.

Expert human translators remain indispensable. Without them the risks are high.

2. AI’s long-term impact: Legal translators are no strangers to technological developments. They monitor those developments and integrate tools into their workflow when appropriate. They’ve been doing this for a long time and will continue to do so.

3. Opportunities and risks: Legal translations generated without any human involvement put you at risk of having a document in which legal terms and concepts have been misinterpreted.

This can lead to significant legal repercussions.

Cost reduction may be a legitimate objective but when the price is someone’s freedom, rights, money, etc.

4. Intellectual property and data risks: Legal translators are well aware of the data risks of free MT and AI platforms.

Client confidentiality is a key concern for the profession.

NDAs and codes of professional codes of ethics covering these matters are common.

Sensitive legal documents should not be put through free MT or AI systems

5. Cybersecurity risks: GDPR awareness among legal translators is high.

6. Integrity of output and ethical concerns: Legal translators are familiar with NMT, a form of AI, its uses, and shortcomings.

Omissions, inconsistent renderings of key legal terms, are common in such systems. All these affect integrity of the legal words being translated.

The output suffers from an “illusion of fluidity”. Your clients need accuracy not something that appears accurate.

Can you guarantee that?

7. Reputational risks: Poor translations resulting from over-reliance on AI can damage a law firm’s reputation in the eyes of its clients.

Lawyers should be wary of trusting the machine too much given the complex nature of legal language.

Do you have policies in place to manage these risks?

8. Regulatory and professional responsibilities: Consider your professional duty to act diligently and safeguard your client’s interests.

Is providing a free / fast translation actually serving your client’s bests interests?

Think about how this ties into your own professional code of conduct

9. Risk management strategies: Lawyers are risk managers.

Legal translators are risk managers.

Expert translators exercise judgment and make informed decisions on the appropriateness of certain renderings of translated terms in a legal context, a skill that AI lacks.

They can also spot errors in the source document and point them out saving egg on your face.

10. Considerations for use in legal practice: Work closely with your legal translator.

Let them decide what tool is appropriate for the translation.

It may involve MT / AI.

It may not.

Trust in their expert knowledge.

Words matter in law – even translated words.

 

If you want to learn more, check out some research into this topic:

https://shorturl.at/nCL17

 In mid-November 2023 the Law Society of England and Wales released a short guide on the essentials of Generative AI for lawyers.

Check out our short 10-point summary …

Generative AI in the Legal Sector:

The emergence of generative AI in the legal sector offers new possibilities for increased technology adoption but also introduces various risks.

AI’s Long-term Impact: The long-term impact of generative AI on the legal profession is uncertain, though some law firms are already using and investing in these tools.
Opportunities and Risks: Generative AI may present opportunities for improved service, cost reduction, and meeting new client demands, but also comes with risks such as data and technology risks.
Intellectual Property and Data Risks: Concerns include potential copyright infringement, misuse or disclosure of confidential information, and data protection risks.
Cybersecurity Risks: Vulnerabilities to hacking, data breaches, and corruption of data sources are significant concerns.
Integrity of Outputs and Ethical Concerns: Generative AI could produce misleading or inaccurate outputs, and reflect societal biases present in training data, leading to unfair results.
Reputational Risks: Negative consequences for clients could lead to reputational and brand damage.
Regulatory and Professional Responsibilities: Ensure a comprehensive understanding of, and strict adherence to, regulatory and professional responsibilities, especially in relation to the use of generative AI within your legal practice.
Risk Management Strategies:  Conduct meticulous risk management by rigorously fact-checking all information. Perform due diligence in your practice. Always ensure compliance with all legal and ethical standards.
Considerations for use in Legal Practice: Examine the use of generative AI tools in your legal practice thoroughly, focusing on data management and client communication. Regularly assess the tool’s relevance and the added value it provides, while weighing these benefits against the potential risks involved.

Keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up post on how all this relates to legal translation

For legal translators the links are clear but our next post will spell them out for lawyers and law firms

One of next week’s highlights plans to be the 2-day conference hosted by the International Association of Legislation and the Greek Secretariat for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs (11-12 February 2021). To my mind, it’s relevant to all of us who translate legal documents.

Given the COVID-19 restrictions, the event will be online.

It’s completely in English, so open to a broad international audience. While the focus may be on the Greek model, the aim is to explore how that model could be used by other countries.

It’s free to attend and the zoom link will be available in a couple of days. I’ll update the blogpost when the link becomes available.

Key themes that will be explored at the conference which I think are particularly relevant for those of us who translate legal documents are:

  • better law-making processes and better legislative drafting, which are/should be topics of interest to legal translators who have to regularly translate legislation;
  • how transposition of EU legislation into national legal orders can be improved. Again that’s a topic relevant to legal translators because it can add another layer of complication to the already complicated task of translating legislation;
  • how civil law systems like Greece can learn from common law systems (and vice versa), because we have to bridge those divides all day every day as translators of legal texts; and
  • how important it is for citizens/businesses to have access to the law in language they understand (and by extension how important it is for foreigners interacting with legal systems to have access to translated law), which is part of our core mission as legal translators.

Promises to be an interesting couple of days.

You can access the full programme here.

Launching a new series of interviews with legal translators and experts in the field of legal translation, we have an interview with Eleni Nanaki, Attorney at Law LL.M – author and publisher of the bilingual legal glossaries in the ius et translatum series who talks to us about challenges in legal translation as seen by an international lawyer…Continue Reading..

A couple of interesting talks on legal translation and court interpreting are coming up in the next few days and weeks…Continue Reading..

The challenges and pitfalls of legal translation: an interview with John O’Shea

photoforwtodconfcopy

John is an experienced legal translator with a background in law. We asked him how he ventured into translation, how he deals with the specific challenges of his specialisation and what are some of the best ways to specialise in this field.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How and where did you first learn Greek and how did you decide to venture into legal translation?

Hi, I’m originally from Ireland. I lived in Greece for 15 years and now live in London. I’m a legal translator and have been doing this job for 21 years now. I was also recently elected to the Board of FIT Europe.

I started learning Greek when I was at university, doing some research about environmental law; the idea was to compare the legal systems in two peripheries of the European Union. From early on I had an interest in comparative law, which is an essential tool for any legal translator. I used to teach law too; and law –as you know- is all about language anyway. So it was easy for me to combine my knowledge of law with my interest in language.  The perfect combination for a legal translator.

What are the main challenges and “traps” when translating legal texts, especially between two different legal systems?

I studied law in Northern Ireland which has its own legal system within the UK, but of course it is based on the common law. The Greek legal system comes from a completely different tradition, based on Roman and civil law, so it can be very hard to describe the way things are done in the Greek context through the medium of English. Lots of things don’t match up, there are often no simple equivalents for terms, ideas or concepts. Plus with Greek you have a couple of added layers of difficulty and complexity: firstly, the switch from purist Greek to the demotic form; the purist form is still very evident in legal documents even today, and secondly the Greek in Cyprus, especially in a legal setting, is completely different from that in Greece: different terms, different concepts, different ways of seeing the world, different ways of presenting information. So translating from Greek to English can be a real challenge.

You need to have a very strong grasp of the two legal systems you are translating between; and a decent understanding of comparative law. Sometimes concepts may appear to be the same at a superficial level but when you take a comparative law approach, and peel back the layers you realise that what you thought was an easy equivalent, isn’t in fact equivalent at all because the concept in each legal system has a slightly different focus. I remember a paper given at a legal translation conference in early 2017 which talked about negligence in 3 different legal systems; but in each system the losses which were being compensated were radically different. Can we really say that negligence in system A is the same as in system B when it is rectifying a different sort of wrong? As a legal translator you really need to be attuned to that sort of detail which means that in-depth research needs to be a core part of what you do.

How do you approach legal terms that have no precise equivalent in the target language?

Let’s take the example of antiparochi; it became common in Greece in the 50s, 60s and 70s as the country experienced a building boom as people flooded into the cities and anyone with land found it tempting to hand the land over to a contractor who would build an apartment building and give the landowner a couple of flats in return. There isn’t anything like it in the UK that I am aware of. If you check the legal dictionaries they will give various terms that don’t really reflect what the term is really about. That tends to be a major problem with legal dictionaries; often they provide no context for when the suggested terms should be used, and offer no clues as to how to decide between the choices available.

That’s where some knowledge of translation theory can be very useful. It suggests that there are various tools and techniques available to the translator; you can’t just rely on a dictionary. These include the use of calques, loan words or neologisms, even translator’s notes to provide an explanation about what the term means. Which approach you use will often depend on who your client is. If you know the document is intended to be read by lawyers and filed in court you need to be as precise as possible; if the client is someone buying an apartment then you can a bit more lax because their primary concern is to understand what they are agreeing to. So how you translate a term, especially one for which there is no easy equivalent, will vary depending on context. You hear a lot of suggestions about what antiparochi should be in English, but my personal favourite is land-for-flats system.  Simple, easy-to-understand, and to the point.

Sometimes concepts may appear to be the same at a superficial level but when you take a comparative law approach and peel back the layers you realise that what you thought was an easy equivalent, isn’t in fact equivalent at all because the concept in each legal system has a slightly different focus.

What would you advise colleagues who wish to specialise in legal translation? How should they go about it?

There’s a massive debate in the legal translation literature about whether someone who has studied law or someone who has studied translation makes the best legal translator. I can’t answer that definitively but from my experience someone without a background in law is at more of a disadvantage because they need to learn the law of two countries, of two legal systems. Someone with a background in law already has a foot on the ladder, and simply needs to become an expert in the other system.

Legal training equips your mind with certain tools that make it much easier to figure out things in the second legal system. I’m not saying it is impossible for someone without legal training to become a legal translator, it just requires a lot more hard work, study and effort; plus the risks of errors being made is definitely higher. That’s not to say that you will never make errors if you’ve studied law then come to translation. To err is human after all.

If you come to legal translation from a translation background, areas you really need to focus on are comparative law, to be able to distinguish between different conceptualisations of the world by different legal systems; procedural law in both systems (how the courts work, how legal proceedings are filed, and so on); the substantive areas of law you are interested in working in -say contract law or land law-; and, strange as it may sound, legal philosophy. A legal translator needs to be able to understand how a lawyer reasons, how he or she thinks, how he or she conceptualises things, put arguments, uses hypothetical reasoning and so on. A firm grounding in legal philosophy can help with that. And of course, legal philosophy in the common law and civil law is very different, so you need to read up on both.

You asked me how to go about specialising in legal translation.

If you come from a translation background, get a law degree ideally. In Greece there are no degree courses in legal translation, you’d have to go abroad to do that. The University of London will be offering one from autumn this year. Other European countries offer great degree courses in legal translation for their own languages.  University of Trieste has great expertise in the field for Italian, for example.

If doing another degree is prohibitive, read as widely as possible about the two legal systems you are interested in.

If you come from a legal background, either study translation or read widely about translation theory before diving straight into translation, and of course make sure your language skills in both languages are strong.

Continuous professional development is also vital. You can’t possibly know all areas of law but you can acquire expertise in certain areas, just like lawyers do. So regularly attending conferences on law and on legal translation is important; especially conferences on law because the law is always developing and changing and it pays to keep up to date.

What are some good resources in the Greek to English / English to Greek language combination?

This is one of the major problems with languages of limited diffusion. A major lack of resources targeted at translators. Basically there are few resources in the field. There are some books in Greek, like Prof. Krimpas’ excellent book on legal terminology, but they can be counted on one hand. A couple of the Greek legal codes have been translated into English; the quality varies a lot from below average to ok; plus lots of the key texts have never been properly translated. What you tend to end up with is everyone translating laws / codes differently, whereas with major languages like French and German, official translations of key legislation and codes are easily available.

But the major problem is a lack of decent dictionaries. I’ve already said that dictionaries won’t solve all the problems or answer all the questions but they are good starting point. The problem with GR-EN / EN-GR is that there is paucity of good legal dictionaries. There are in fact quite a few legal dictionaries in that combination, they just tend to be problematic: mere word lists in effect, or a massive choice of potential things to choose from, but no explanation of how to differentiate between them.  In other languages like French, academics or even individual translators have prepared legal dictionaries designed to overcome those problems. In Greece, we haven’t quite got to that stage.

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Excellent news as the LLM in Legal Translation is relaunched as a blended learning degree.Continue Reading..

Eva Angelopoulou provides her overview of events for legal translators and interpreters held earlier this year by EULITA:Continue Reading..

On  Thursday, 21 September, the University of Birmingham will host a seminar on ” Law, translation and migration: an enlightening relationship”. The event is free but requires pre-registration. The announcement about the event and the full programme are reproduced below:

“Challenges of legal translation have existed for a long time in international law and international relations. However, the intense process of globalization since the latter half of the 20th century has led to a rapid increase of international treaties and agreements, regional governance, international organizations, NGOs and courts as well as growing reliance on international arbitration.

Much of this globalized legal work is performed through translation. In spite of its long history and recent proliferation, legal translation remains underexplored, particularly from a socio-legal perspective. In fact, research on the intersection of law and translation has tended to concentrate on a rather limited agenda with broader issues being neglected. Therefore, migration is an appropriate and innovative lens to pursue this broader investigation and to tackle the following key issues: what are the various effects of globalisation on this intersection? What is the impact of legal translation on the acceptance of concepts and ideas into other (legal) cultures? What are the effects of the ‘translated’ word on the perception of the very phenomena it portrays?

This seminar will not only further our understanding of the intersection of law and translation, but it will advance knowledge and analysis on migration, an issue central to our times. By addressing the intersection of law and translation in this way, it will  reveal novel questions, effects or links to migration, thus advancing the intellectual agenda of the socio-legal community.”

Programme

Morning

Workshop 1 – Language and migration – A complex relationship

Professor Ann-Marie Fortier – University of Lancaster (Department of sociology):
‘On (not) speaking English: colonial legacies in language requirements for British citizenship’ 

Professor Eleanor Spaventa – University of Durham (School of Law):
“Language and the internal market”

Professor François Grin – Université de Genève (Faculty of translation and interpreting)
“Language, mobility and inclusion in the EU: the MIME project”

Workshop 2 – Portrayal of the nexus translation and migration

Professor Lucja Biel – University of Warsaw (Faculty of applied linguistics):
‘Translation and the law: A case study of a corpus of (legal) translation on migration’ 

Professor Loredana Polezzi – University of Cardiff (School of Modern Languages):
‘The portrayal in contemporary literary texts of the relationship between migration, translation and the law”

Afternoon:

Workshop 3 – ‘Translating migration’ in practice

Professor Angela Creese & Professor Adrian Blackledge – University of Birmingham (School of Education):
‘Translation in everyday practice”

Dr Frances Rock – University of Cardiff (School of English, communication and philosophy)
“Just because she’s a solicitor that doesn’t make her any better than you”: Law, translation and migration in confronting disadvantage through enlightened relationships in legal advice”

Dr Elpida Loupaki – Aristotle University of Thessalonika (Department of French studies and literature):
‘Translating migration – beyond terminology’

Piotr Wegorowski – University of Cardiff (School of English, communication and philosophy)
“Translating institutional procedures: the case of community policing”

 

source: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/law/events/2017/law-translation-migration.aspx


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