Translation Software for small Legal Dept
May 19, 2010 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Translation Software (that you pay for) - Has anyone found reliable translation software? e.g. Babylon VIP? We are a small Legal Dept. and need something better than Google or Bablefish, but we don't want the expense of paying a translating service. Any recommendations or testimonials?
posted by nancoix to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you need legal translation, you need something better than software.
posted by thesmophoron at 9:59 AM on May 19, 2010 [11 favorites]

Seconding thesmorophon.
I work with linguistic processing software, and even for day-to-day stuff it's just not reliable. And for a legal document, shell out for a real person. This is your professional ass on the line.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:05 AM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thirding; even with a translation software, you will need an editor at the very least to check over what it has produced.

Alternatively, you could look into paying a student to do the translation for you, with some vetting for quality; typically they are cheaper and looking for non-permanent, part-time work during their free time. Could be a win, particularly if you need to translate more than one different language.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:11 AM on May 19, 2010

Translator of legal documents here (95% of the time, target language English). Trust me when I say, by paying for the documents to be properly translated up front will save you more time, money and effort later on. At least once a month, I am contacted by a law firm that is starting to do some international business, thinks they can save a couple of ducats by using translation software. When the result is unreadable, I am sent the job to clean it up and do it right. Because firms are in a rush at this point, I get to charge my rate plus half to get it to them quickly. What you are trying to do is something of a joke in my field. Call it a rookie mistake, if you will.

Translation software is a godsend (Trados, Wordfast), for people like me, translators. Translation software is not terribly useful to the end user, at least not yet. You need a lot of training and experience with these programs to get them to work well. Thank god I am not yet out of a job! Especially with legal documents, where precision and clarity are tantamount, you need a professional, living breathing translator to get the job done right. A stitch in time saves nine.
posted by msali at 10:45 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Horror story -- I was an HR supervisor for a small but multinational company in a field with many similar companies (okay, fine, I worked for a smaller and less evil version of Blackwater/Halliburton in Iraq). The U.S. DoD suddenly made it a requirement for us to provide every employee/contractor/subcontractor with a copy of his or her contract in his or her native language. I had the following conversation with my Ugandan shop steward:
"What's the 'native language' of our Ugandan employees?"
"There's about fifty native languages in Uganda."
"Did you say fifty or fifteen?"
"You heard me. I speak English better than you do. I have a degree in it."
"I minored in French, too."

Luckily, he could provide me with a copy of the Ugandan law that all contracts must be executed in English, which our contracting representative accepted. So we ended up having only to translate into Arabic, Tagalog, Swahili (just to be safe), Afrikaans, Spanish, Romanian and Sinhalese, and I'm forgetting at least two others, because I remember getting yelled at when we got to eight separate translations and telling my boss that we had at least one more coming down the pike.

We sent them to actual legal translators, and it took forever and was a pain in my personal ass and those of a lot of people around me. In the meantime, another company located not too far away from us basically had a bunch of their employees translate them, mostly using translations software, then they printed those up and distributed them. Within a year, they were sued in at least two foreign countries for breach of those contracts. It flat-out killed that company's operations in one of those countries, which was a huge blow to them and nearly destroyed the company. My company has never had that problem, and picked up one of the lucrative contracts that the other company had to abandon. The president of my company thanked me personally in a company-wide email for not letting us blow off our contracts like that.

Or, to sum up, "Nthing thesmophoron."
posted by Etrigan at 10:48 AM on May 19, 2010 [9 favorites]

Piling on (in the hopes of being helpful) to say that I agree with all the other responses. I am a professional translator and msali is right on the money when he says that paying to get it right the first time is more than worth it. An increasing number of translators/editors in my occupational group are refusing to work on machine-translated documents, asking instead for the source document and doing a fresh translation from that, simply because with most if not all machine translations it's just far too difficult to work out what is going on. "Garbage in, garbage out" as they say.

AI in this area just isn't at the level yet where it's able to replace the human brain, if you're a legal department you really do want to be getting the translations done properly. At the moment, that means using a human (and no, I'm truly not just saying that because I'm a translator!)
posted by different at 11:41 AM on May 19, 2010

there's a reason why everyone is echoing thesmophoron. it's because that answer is the correct one. helpfully, it's also the first.
posted by deejay jaydee at 12:12 PM on May 19, 2010

There's a reason it costs to shell out for a professional translator. They have highly specialised skills that can't be properly duplicated by computers. If software could do it just as well we wouldn't have actual humans doing the job anymore.
posted by fso at 4:37 PM on May 19, 2010


There are far too many nuances in legal language that even experienced lawyers bicker over --and litigate. Your average bi-lingual person is likely unqualified to do a good translation, and your average translation software is for sure unqualified to do one.

If the contract can't be drafted in the target language, then you need a skilled professional to do it for you. My employer deals with contracts around the world and most are drafted by people with limited legal knowledge and varying English skill. Much, if not most, of my work is spent revising contract drafts for clarity. But that's only because in most cases we're fortunate enough to have the stronger bargaining position and ability to proffer our version.

In instances where we have, say, a Spanish or Russian language contract from a party that gets to dictate the terms, those are extremely tricky. In our case I advise my company to retain outside counsel from the relevant country to review and give their opinion.
posted by holterbarbour at 7:43 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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