The Proliferation of Foreign Language Reviews

Diversity-GlobalA remarkable and increasingly prevalent trend is taking shape in the world of electronic discovery. The trend is the growing need for reviews to be conducted on documents and electronic information written in foreign languages. Demand for multi-lingual services is at levels never before seen in the field of document review, and the demand extends to corporate “deal” documents and information which is the subject of litigation. As the number of reviews conducted in foreign languages continues to escalate, so too are the number of job postings for reviewers who are fluent in foreign languages.

At Special Counsel, we saw a 240 percent increase in the number of reviews our legal professionals have performed on behalf of clients from 2009-2011. In 2011, we supplied review personnel for more foreign language review projects than in 2007-2010 combined. Nation- wide, job postings for these projects mirror the growing demand for this specialized service and the languages we support range from the commonly used to the rarely seen, including the following:

  • Amharic
  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • French
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Norwegian
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Thai

To date, Special Counsel has provided over 550 foreign language fluent reviewers on more than 100 document reviews. Twenty seven of Special Counsel’s 37 offices have conducted reviews of foreign language documents – 16 have staffed reviews in Spanish, nine have staffed reviews in French and Mandarin Chinese, and eight have supported reviews in German and Korean. Our New York City office alone has staffed reviews in 16 different languages, and many of our offices have conducted multiple reviews in the same language.

As the number of reviews conducted in foreign languages continues to escalate, so too are the number of job postings for reviewers who are fluent in foreign languages.

That we are in a global economy is just one of the contributing factors to the need for this language facility. The U.S. accounts for about half of all global merger & acquisition activity, and nine of the ten largest of those deals in recent years were struck in the U.S., resulting in non-English reviews. Also, in reaction to the sluggish domestic economy, U.S. companies have sought to expand their global businesses, generating more deals overseas. In the Asia-Pacific region, for example, in 2010, there were close to $100 billion in such transactions (Japanese fluency has been the most-requested language, for corporate and litigation alike).

Contributing also to the rise in foreign language reviews is the sizable cross- border litigation initiated in an economy where a growing number of assets are knowledge-based instead of physical. Litigation among some of the giants in the computer and electronics worlds is just one example of this. One of these entities has far-flung and domestic litigation implicating at least 18 non- English languages. Add to this the surge in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases and those sparked by the banking crisis, and the underpinnings of the rise in this need are better understood.

Naturally, the minimum requirement of a reviewer sought for non-English documents is a fluency in the subject language. Other required skills include the ability to translate the germane legal terms in that language and a proficiency in divining the meaning of colloquial and culturally-influenced words and phrases. For this reason, automated translation applications can fall sort of the requisite accuracy as they are not designed to detect cultural and dialectical differences. Further, the cost – and availability – of professional translators can be prohibitive, especially in a matter where massive amounts of information need to be reviewed within tight deadlines. Reviewers who have proven fluency and, preferably, prior experience in review in a given foreign language are ideal for this task. Not to mention reviewers whose credentials, sometimes from a different country, pass muster.

In this new world, partnering with a provider who can supply legal professionals with the required language proficiency, properly tested and confirmed, in the desired size and for the necessary duration, will surely lead to a superior work product and a pleased client.

Angela Parkinson is the Executive Director of our Special Counsel San Diego office and David Maldonado is a Special Counsel Senior Vice President.

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