Friday, March 20, 2020

The Changing Legal Technology Landscape

We have been witnessing a dramatic, largely digitally-driven business transformation, affecting many industries over the last decade. The term most often used to describe this phenomenon is “digital transformation,” even though non-digital business structural changes most often accompany it. 

Digitization and datafication are key elements in this kind of transformation. We have seen the impact of this phenomenon most clearly in the retail industry, where giants of yesteryear like Sears and Borders have fallen to more digitally agile contenders like Amazon, who have changed the retail landscape fundamentally. The impact of digital transformation on the legal profession and function has been less dramatic, but after spending a week at LegalWeek20 in NYC in February, it is clear that change is coming to the enterprise-focused legal profession as well.

The emerging changes in the Legal Industry can be characterized along the following five dimensions:
  • The changing relationship between Corporate General Counsel and outside counsel
  • The changing legal services model
  • The growing impact of the data deluge
  • The evolving legal technology landscape
  • The increasing importance of data security and privacy

The growing tension and disconnect between corporate general counsel and outside law firms

Experts suggest that the disruptive changes in the legal industry began after the 2008 downturn when companies started demanding more from their outside counsel. Today’s law firms find themselves under greater pressure from clients who demand value, efficiency, and transparency in a way that was uncommon ten years ago. The past decade has seen General Counsels (GCs), demanding more for less, but it has also seen a growing awareness that return on investment (ROI) is more important than just the cost.

The shift that began a decade ago, also began the gradual death of the traditional approach to legal billing, the venerated billable hour. Previously, outside counsel time was literally equivalent to money. Lawyers had little incentive to be more efficient and saw no reason to spend non-billable time exploring and deploying new technologies to make themselves more efficient. This traditional approach is changing now, as firms can no longer rely solely on their legal expertise; today, they must increasingly focus on how they deliver that expertise, which calls for increased use of technology and benefits early adopters of disruptive technologies. Legal services have been a buyers’ market for the past decade and corporate law departments now like to see clearly defined value and efficiency.

All this is happening against a backdrop of changing buyer behaviors accelerated by rapid globalization across the whole professional services market. The corporate legal department has historically often been viewed as “deal killers,” but the modern legal department is now often a much more engaged internal business partner in emerging corporate initiatives. Modern legal departments have increasingly shifted their approach to manage the specific changes created by digitalization — today, corporate legal counsel engages with more stakeholders, interacts with more speed and iteration, and are accustomed to the increased technical and collaborative nature of digital work, in addition to handling new information-related risks. The increasingly technologically aware workforce is upping its expectations in terms of the use of technology and effective, rapid communication between service providers and clients.

Technology is changing the general counsel’s role, and law firms need to react to remain competitive. The time has come to embrace emerging technologies that provide clients with efficient solutions to manage and service their current and future needs. Client expectations are changing, technology is having an increasing impact, and new, low-cost legal service competitors are emerging to take a slice of the market. What was already a buyer’s market is becoming more so, with increasingly powerful in-house legal departments stoking up the market for alternative legal service providers (ALSPs).

Some GCs and consultants have even developed tests to measure their outside law firms on how efficiently they perform with commonly used productivity tools and measure competence with widely used technology. These tests reward efficiency, which goes against the yardstick that old-style lawyers have traditionally used to value their work: time. Firms whose working cultures do not evolve to service current market needs efficiently, are likely an endangered species. Law firms need to deliver better quality service, and they need to do it cheaper and faster, which demands more automation and competence with technology. Clients are now much less tolerant of old-style lawyers who resist or refuse to use technology that enables expedited and efficient work production.

In his book “The End of Lawyers?” author and legal tech expert Richard Susskind writes: “It is not easy to convince a group of millionaires [Old Partners at Law Firms]... that their business model [the billable hour] is wrong.”

Law departments are now at what Judith Flournoy, CIO at international law firm Kelley Drye & Warren terms “an inflection point,” where they are likely to have to accelerate their uptake of technological innovations to stay competitive. Competence with analytics, collaboration and office productivity software is increasingly a base requirement for the client today.

The changing legal services market

As the needs of GCs change, we see corporate law departments are in-sourcing more legal work, using more tools and technology that reduces the need for outside counsel, and are using more boutique law firms and quasi legal-service providers (Alternate Legal Service Providers - ALSP).

The traditional structure of partners effectively running the business, with some carefully supervised and limited support services, is outdated today. The General Counsel today can not only shift to another law firm, but could also work with small specialist boutique law firms, and global accounting firms who are increasing their involvement with legal services. The smaller firms tend to be much more innovative, specialized, tech-savvy, and run leaner practices enabled by technology; and thus are often more competitive than large firms. The growing importance and practice of technology-enabled collaboration allow these new service providers to deliver much more integrated, efficient services resulting in deeper client relationships.

The 2017 Litera Report on the State of the Legal Market states: “The potential impact of the Big Four accounting firms on the future market for law firm services cannot be overstated [for firms in jurisdictions where alternative business structures are permitted]. As the ALSP market evolves, the Big Four are likely to play an ever-expanding role.” The Alternative Legal Service Providers market revenue grew from $8.4 billion in 2015 to about $10.7 billion in 2017 and continues to grow rapidly.

ALSPs perform many of the tasks traditionally done by law firms, with the top five tasks identified in a Thomson Reuters survey as:
  • Litigation and Investigation Support
  • Legal Research
  • Document Review
  • eDiscovery, and
  • Regulatory Risk and Compliance
Ron Friedmann, a partner at Fireman & Company, a legal industry-focused management consulting firm, believes firms need to leverage an ecosystem of players. He says many of the future lawyers will not be lawyers at all. According to Friedmann, “In ten to fifteen years, law firms will be a much smaller share of the total legal market.”

 The ongoing data explosion

The volume and complexity of data have always been a part of the landscape in the legal industry. What is changing is the deluge of data is coming at ever-increasing speeds, increasing variety, and formats, and is also increasingly global and multilingual. The impact of this data explosion is significant, and most legal teams will admit this increase in content is a major challenge facing the legal profession today.

In eDiscovery settings, this also means that the information triage process is more challenging and requires much more automation to handle data volume and variety and increase the capability to deal with much more multilingual data.

The modern enterprise is now much more rapidly and naturally global, and thus the modern legal department and outside counsel need to be able to process content and information-flows in multiple languages regularly. The variety and volumes of multilingual content that legal professionals need to process and monitor can include any of the following:
  • International contract negotiations and disputes
  • Patent-infringement litigation
  • Human Resource communications in global enterprises
  • Customer communications
  • GDPR compliance-related monitoring and analysis
  • Cross-border regulatory compliance monitoring
  • FCPA compliance monitoring
The volumes of multilingual content can vary greatly, from very large volumes that might involve terabytes of documents in litigation related eDiscovery, to specialized monitoring of customer communications to ensure regulatory compliance, to smaller volumes of sensitive communications with global employees. Multilingual issues are especially present in cross-border partnerships and business dealings, which are now increasingly common across many industries. Being able to process and analyze large volumes of multilingual data is becoming an increasingly more important requirement.

 The emerging legal technology landscape

Law firms can help general counsel drive efficiencies in business decisions by working together to determine what technology is most beneficial. Firms need to start adopting a collaborative teamwork approach not only with general counsel but also by cooperating with alternative service providers and the Big Four as collaborative partners. The general counsel is also looking for outside counsel to adopt a more client-centric model.

As automation penetrates more deeply into legal practice, we see that the role of technology grows in scope and breadth. Tools can range from a variety of analytics and collaboration tools to structured document management tools, end-to-end litigation, and eDiscovery platforms. More recently, comprehensive information governance tools are emerging to handle the increasing datafication of the modern enterprise, and manage the growing compliance risks involved in conducting business with an increasing digital footprint.

Rather than simply upgrading existing technologies, the true transformation only comes when law firms adopt a robust IT strategy that overhauls their services completely. Automation also only makes sense if it delivers on providing high-quality work more efficiently and delivers predictable value to the client.

“After all, if you’re paying for a service and one supplier, says, ‘that will take two weeks, and we’ll charge you by the hour,’ and another says, ‘that will take us two days, and we’ll charge a fixed fee’—which would you choose?”

Legaltech, notes Richard Tromans, founder of Tromans Consulting, is a “very wide spectrum.” At one end, there is document assembly and robotic process automation, taking the grind out of standard, repetitive work while reducing the time taken to perform tasks, saving costs, removing errors, and improving compliance. This kind of automation falls into the category of optimization. At the other end is natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and virtual assistants, which offer the possibility of really revolutionizing the future of legal services — and opens the door to the prospect of robot lawyers.”

As the volumes of data climb, tools that help lawyers to extract relevance and identify core patterns that become increasingly important. The legal technology community needs to move beyond making vague claims of being AI-based, to showing clearly how machine learning and data-driven algorithms can assist in delivering higher value to an expanding variety of legal tasks and processes.

The increasing importance of data security and privacy

Data security involves both preventing malicious attacks and limiting accidental data loss. However, the distributed nature of technology, enhanced by cloud services, creates vulnerability with employees increasingly working from remote locations, making it harder to secure data.

As DLA Piper partner—and former US Department of Justice cybercrime coordinator—Ed McAndrew observed, “The best evidence is now held in mobile devices and the apps, social networks, and cloud services we utilize with those devices. Any investigator or litigator who ignores that evidence may be committing malpractice in many instances.”

Recent surveys by Gartner suggest that legal leaders have to start investing in digital skills and capabilities, reflecting the evolving role of the legal department as a strategic business partner. “How legal departments build capabilities to govern risk within digital initiatives matters more than the legal advice they provide” says Christina Hertzler, Practice Vice President, Gartner.

Striking a reasonable balance between security and convenience is a challenge faced by all law firms. As organizations change the way they operate, generate revenue, and create value for their customers, new compliance risks are emerging — presenting a challenge to compliance oversight, which must identify, assess, and mitigate risks like those tied to fundamentally new technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence) and processes.

GDPR, CCPA, and other privacy protection regulations will present special challenges for the modern enterprise. Thus, while digital transformation initiatives require active data harvesting to enable better personalization, this data acquisition effort also needs to respect the privacy rights of consumers and customers who may or may not be aware of the extent of the data collection activities. Debbie Reynolds noted the information governance requirements of these regulations at LegalWeek recently. “The new reality is that navigating the data privacy rights of individuals everywhere will be an operational necessity for businesses to thrive in the digital age,” she said.

Legal professionals will need to play a larger role in managing these new risks, which can be devastating and cost millions in reparations and negative consequences. Increasingly these threats originate in foreign countries and sometimes even with support from foreign governments.

Apart from the compliance risks that clients face, law firms themselves are sought-after targets as repositories of privileged data. Law firms are a top target among hackers because of the extensive high-value client information they possess. Hackers understand that law firms are a “one-stop-shop” for sensitive and proprietary corporate information, merger & acquisitions related data, and emerging intellectual property information.

Lawyers are failing on cybersecurity, according to the American Bar Association Legal Technology Resource Center’s ABA TechReport 2019. “The lack of effort on security has become a major cause for concern in the profession.

As more rapidly flowing multilingual data becomes the norm in global enterprises, new data security risks emerge as employees start using public machine translation to translate privileged business content. The risk is high because publicly available tools are essentially frictionless and require little “buy-in” from users who don’t understand the data leakage implications as they pass privileged content through these systems. The rapid rate of increase in globalization has resulted in a substantial and ever-growing volume of multilingual information that needs to be translated instantly as a matter of ongoing business practice. Multilingual data will become much more pervasive over the coming future as the forces of globalization march onwards.

However, this situation evolves, it seems clear that robust machine translation solutions will be needed for any enterprise or law firm with global ambitions.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

3 Ways You Can Become an ‘Augmented Translator’

This is a guest post by 
 2019 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Digital Economy Report, which shows that global internet protocol (IP) traffic, a proxy for data flows, grew from about 100 gigabytes (GB) per day in 1992 to more than 45,000 GB per second in 2017. By 2022, the figure is expected to stand at 150,700 GB per second.


The future of professional translation is here. Are you ready? Translation is driving the globalization of communication, but it encompasses more than just translation: linguistic advising, review, proofreading, transcreation, subtitling, language consultancy, linguistic content management... the list goes on. No doubt 2020 and beyond is set to increase opportunities for translators to add value to their clients. But, given the rapidly changing world we now live in, how can translators evolve their own services, becoming 'Augmented Translators'?

Engage with technology

The purpose of technology in translation has always been to help translators deliver and finalize content faster. The days when translators were locked up in a library with a pile of dictionaries and a pencil to produce a translation are long gone. Today, content is processed online, from brochures and web pages to user manuals and market outlooks. Even traditional white papers are no longer exclusively published in paper format. And the list of tools, plug-ins, and technologies available to help translators to finalize and reach audiences continues to grow: translation memories, terminology databases, fragment matches, upLIFT, Neural Machine translation, Autosuggest dictionaries, and more.

Even our corporate language is changing with technology: instead of “engaging” with customers, companies “connect” with customers. Now, for those who are familiar with the technologies offered by our flagship solution, SDL Trados Studio, check out the many assumptions raised about our future by language specialists here.

Even more tech-savvy? Check the other side of the fence and see how content will impact the augmented translators’ environment. Discover SDL Content Assistant, a technology that was considered science-fiction several years ago – but is now very real.

Also, with today’s technology, the help provided to translators does not only come from the tools: now, even content creates itself. Now, it’s up to us, translators, to transform it for our local audience.

Specialize in quality levels, not only in specific industries

Fact: the amount of content to translate has reached incredible levels. While SDL translates hundreds of billions of words every year, this figure remains a drop in an ocean of all translated words. What matters is not the amount to translate. What matters is that the result displayed to your audience meets the quality level expected for such content.

However, billions of words also mean billions of possibilities, and augmented translators are aware of one truth that is the current state of affairs: there is no “standard translation”.

All translations are unique, because clients have unique needs, like their customers. And they also have unique constraints, terminologies, processes, and practices.

With the client’s needs in mind, the augmented translator will adjust their effort and the amount of time required to complete their tasks. And the productivity tools available nowadays are here to help them alleviate the burden: the augmented translator never translates from scratch.

The key factor here is to find the perfect dosage in productivity, the right balance between effort and result. It is important to have a strong understanding of the translation workflow, the tools and assets at your disposal, and your own strengths and skills. This will help assess the quality and thus reduce risks.

In fact, “quality” can only be assessed by a human mind, and this is where the augmented translator and the client can collaborate to set expectations on quality. Because both clients and translators know that a “lack of quality” also means “rework”. And while a “high-quality translation” may be expensive, a “low-quality translation” may cost even more.

Inject culture, and acquire knowledge

Augmented translators will speed up the process of integrating their clients’ requirements to get the quality needed, and that is a truth for all industries. But only if they have adequate assets to help them get started in an augmented world.

An augmented translator will take advantage of the following resources:
  • Content reuse from translation memories
  • Glossaries to apply preferred terminology
  • Style guides to comply with formatting, grammar, and stylistic rules 
  • The tone of voice or brand guides to convey the brand’s message 
  • Project-specific instructions, like character limitations
  • Machine and AI-enabled translation engines to accelerate productivity
All these automated tools and assets are literally “knowledge providers” to the translator, and help non-specialized translators to meet client requests even without even knowing the client. These knowledge providers are useful since all the clients have preferred terms, favorite wordings, and different rules.

Of course, this automation can also be error-prone and full of traps: terms in glossaries that do not take the context into account, incorrect source texts written by non-native speakers, corporate jargon not understandable outside of your client’s professional sphere, and more.

This is where the augmented translator has two strong cards to play: culture and understanding.

Augmented translators will be able to spot errors in the source text, avoid using offensive or restrictive content, use the appropriate language for the target audience, rewrite puns, detect dual meanings, adapt to stylistic rules, and correct erroneous terminology used by translation engines, etc.

The augmented translator walks in the footsteps of the ancient copyists and scribes and embraces the same mission and ambition: connect cultures and content to share a message.


Jonathan Grisot started as a translator in 2007 and currently holds a position of Senior Language Specialist for SDL in Paris. He is responsible for driving Machine Translation initiatives, managing internal training and quality best practices and is still involved in various translation and transcreation projects. He is also managing the Junior Academy, a local SDL onboarding structure for newly hired SDL translators. Born in Burgundy and raised on the French Riviera, Jonathan considers his detective novels, sci-fi and fantasy books as his numerous children.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Most Popular Blog Posts of 2019

I did not write as much as I had hoped to in 2019 but I hopefully can correct this in the coming year. I notice that the top two posts of the past year were written by guest writers, and I invite others who may be so moved, to also come forward and add to the content being produced on this blog.

These rankings are based on the statistics given to me by the hosting platform, and in general, they look reasonable and likely. In these days of fake news and fake images, one does need to be wary. I have produced other reports that have produced drastically different rankings which seemed somewhat suspect to me so I am going with the listing presented in this post.

The most popular post of the 2019 year was from a frequent guest writer on eMpTy Pages: Luigi Muzii, who has also written extensively about post-editing best practices elsewhere.

1. Understanding the Realities of Language Data

Despite the hype, we should understand that deep learning algorithms are increasingly going to be viewed as commodities.

The data is your teacher. It's the data where the real value is. I predict that this will become increasingly clear over the coming year.

Data is valuable when it is properly collected, understood, organized and categorized. Having rich metadata and taxonomy is especially valuable with linguistic data. Luigi has already written about metadata previously, and you can find the older articles here and here. I think that we should also understand that often translation memory does not have the quality and attributes that make it useful for training NMT systems. This is especially true when large volumes of disparate TM are aggregated together and this is contrary to what many in the industry believe. It is often more beneficial to create new, more relevant TM, based on real and current business needs that better fit the source that needs to be translated.

A series of posts that focused on BLEU scores and MT output quality assessment were the next most popular. Hopefully, my efforts to steer the serious user/buyer to look at business impact beyond these kinds of scores has succeeded, and informed buyers now understand that it is possible to have significant score differences that may have a minimal business impact, and thus these scores should not be overemphasized when selecting a suitable or optimal MT solution.

2.  Understanding MT Quality: BLEU Scores

As there are many MT technology options available today, BLEU and its derivatives are sometimes used to select what MT vendor and system to use. The use of BLEU in this context is much more problematic and prone to drawing erroneous conclusions as often comparisons are being made between apples and oranges. The most common error in interpreting BLEU is the lack of awareness and understanding that there is a positive bias towards one MT system because it has already seen and trained on the test data or has been used to develop the test data set.

What is BLEU useful for?

Modern MT systems are built by “training” a computer with examples of human translations. As more human translation data is added, systems should generally get better in quality. Often, new data can be added with beneficial results, but sometimes new data can cause a negative effect especially if it is noisy or otherwise “dirty”. Thus, to measure if progress is being made in the development process, the system developers need to be able to measure the quality impact rapidly and frequently to make sure they are improving the system and are in fact making progress.

BLEU allows developers a means “to monitor the effect of daily changes to their systems in order to weed out bad ideas from good ideas.” When used to evaluate the relative merit of different system building strategies, BLEU can be quite effective as it provides very quick feedback and this enables MT developers to quickly refine and improve translation systems they are building and continue to improve quality on a long term basis.

The enterprise value-equation is much more complex and goes far beyond linguistic quality and Natural Language Processing (NLP) scores. To truly reflect the business value and impact, evaluation of MT technology must factor in non-linguistic attributes including:
  • Adaptability to business use cases
  • Manageability
  • Integration into enterprise infrastructure
  • Deployment flexibility   
To effectively link MT output to business value implications, we need to understand that although linguistic precision is an important factor, it often has a lower priority in high-value business use cases. This view will hopefully take hold as the purpose and use of MT is better understood in the context of a larger business impact scenario, beyond localization.

Ultimately, the most meaningful measures of MT success are directly linked to business outcomes and use cases. The definition of success varies by the use case, but most often, linguistic accuracy as an expression of translation quality is secondary to other measures of success. 

The integrity of the overall solution likely has much more impact than the MT output quality in the traditional sense: not surprisingly, MT output quality could vary by as much as 10-20% on either side of the current BLEU score without impacting the true business outcome. Linguistic quality matters but is not the ultimate driver of successful business outcomes. In fact, there are reports of improvements in output quality in an eCommerce use case that actually reduced the conversion rates on the post-edited sections, as this post-edited content was viewed as being potentially advertising-driven and thus less authentic and trustworthy.

There is also a post by Dr. Pete Smith that is worth a look: In a Funk about BLEU

Your personal data security really does matter
Don't give it away

The fourth most popular post of 2019 was by guest writer Robert Etches with his vision for Blockchain. 

4.  A Vision for Blockchain in the Translation Industry

Cryptocurrency has had a very bad year, but the underlying technology is still regarded as a critical building block for many new initiatives. It is important to be realistic without denying the promise as we have seen the infamous CEOs do. Change can take time and sometimes it needs much more infrastructure than we initially imagine. McKinsey (smart people who also have an Enron and mortgage securitization promoter legacy) have also just published an opinion on this undelivered potential, which can be summarized as:
 "Conceptually, blockchain has the potential to revolutionize business processes in industries from banking and insurance to shipping and healthcare. Still, the technology has not yet seen a significant application at scale, and it faces structural challenges, including resolving the innovator’s dilemma. Some industries are already downgrading their expectations (vendors have a role to play there), and we expect further “doses of realism” as experimentation continues." 
While I do indeed have serious doubts about the deployment of blockchain in the translation industry anytime soon, I do feel that if it happens it will be driven by dreamers, rather than by process crippled NIH pragmatists like Lou Gerstner and Rory. These men missed the obvious because they were so sure they knew all there was to know and because they were stuck in the old way of doing things.  While there is much about blockchain that is messy and convoluted, these are early days yet and the best is yet to come.

Finally, much to my amazement, a post that I wrote in March 2012 was the fifth most-read post of 2019 even though seven years have passed. This proves Luigi's point, (I paraphrase here)  that the more things change in the world at large, the more they stay the same in the translation industry. 

The issue of equitable compensation for the post-editors is an important one, and it is important to understand the issues related to post-editing, that many translators find to be a source of great pain and inequity.  MT can often fail or backfire if the human factors underlying work are not properly considered and addressed. 

From my vantage point, it is clear that those who understand these various issues and take steps to address them are most likely to find the greatest success with MT deployments. These practitioners will perhaps pave the way for others in the industry and “show you how to do it right” as Frank Zappa says. Many of the problems with PEMT are related to ignorance about critical elements, “lazy” strategies and lack of clarity on what really matters, or just simply using MT where it does not make sense. These factors result in the many examples of poor PEMT implementations that antagonize translators. 

My role at SDL was also somewhat inevitable since as long as 7 years ago I was saying:
I suspect that the most compelling evidence of the value and possibilities of PEMT will come from LSPs who have teams of in-house editors/translators who are on fixed salaries and are thus less concerned about the word vs. hourly compensation issues. For these companies, it will only be necessary to prove that first of all MT is producing high enough quality to raise productivity and then ensuring that everybody is working as efficiently as possible. (i.e not "over-correcting"). I would bet that these initiatives will outperform any in-house corporate MT initiative in quality and efficiency.
It is also clear that as more big-data becomes translation worthy, the need for the technologically informed linguistic steering will become more imperative and valuable.SDL is uniquely positioned to do this better than almost anybody else that I can think of. I look forward to helping make this a reality at SDL in 2020.

The SDL blog also had a strong preference for MT-related themes and if you are curious you can check this out: REVEALED: The Most Popular SDL Blogs of 2019

Wishing you all a Happy, Prosperous, 
and Healthy, New Year and Decade