What is Law Tech?
Succinctly put by LegalVision, Law Tech “is the buzzword used to describe how technology is assisting the legal profession”. Wikipedia will tell you it supports every aspect of the industry from practice management and accounting to document storage and legal research. The term, more recently, also covers systems that allow clients to connect with lawyers more easily or for clients to avoid the need for lawyers at all.
That last point sounds similar, doesn’t it? The grand MT debate ring a bell? In fact, much of what Law Tech entails lines up with the world of translation: project management tools help us coordinate (multiple) projects, CAT tools store and allow us to recycle translations, searching linguistic corpora echoes the purpose of legal research systems. But to what extent do – or rather, could – the tools in each realm tie in with each other and what does it mean for legal translators?
Good, bad or ugly?
The first and most obvious connection between Law Tech and translation technology is the controversy that surrounds both – scratch at the surface of either and you’ll soon be tangled in a web of pros and cons.
Speed is usually of the essence in law: client cases usually require urgent attention, due to the nature either of the case or of the client. So, of course, a tool that eliminates lengthy and/or menial tasks has its upsides. Hand-in-hand with this goes the idea that technology frees up time for the experts to use their – well – expertise to its maximum potential: the less time one has to spend on formatting or account management, for example, the more time there is to explore the intricacies of each individual case – the details for which a lawyer has been trained to spot or even the human aspect.
Another argument in favour of Law Tech is that it can put clients in direct contact with their lawyers sooner than if they had to, say, wait for an appointment. And, linked to that, is the idea that a client can receive automated help, meaning human resources aren’t being used where they’re not strictly needed, reserving them for where they strictly are.
Of course, none of this is without its reservations. “A man is only as good as his tools” – rubbish in, rubbish out! Freshfields sees smart contracts in a similar light: “Code can never be wrong per se, but it can have unintended consequences.” There’s always room for error where the human aspect – demeanour, body language, the way things are presented, omissions – are so important. Can a computer be as good as a human at deciphering whether, for example, a client is omitting vital info? Exaggerating something else? And what good is a computer if it’s then making calculations based on false or erroneous information?
There’s long been a discourse on whether plain writing in law is a positive or a negative thing. Making law something everyone can understand sounds great but can lead to a loss of precision and some argue it make the general public feel they can understand it but, when put to the test, they’ve missed some vital points (e.g. legal terms with non-legal meaning understood in their everyday sense). I’m not necessarily against plain writing but the cons have their bearing and I see the idea that Law Tech removes the need for a lawyer as an extension of that argument.
How does Law Tech compare to translation technology?
How doesn’t it? CAT tools and their advancements are the cruces of so many debates that match those concerning Law Tech: are they removing the need for translators? Do they (negatively) affect our income? And MT is getting more intelligent by the day: it’s created a new role (post-MT editing) and become good enough that some clients feel they can do away with the translator entirely. But it’s not good enough yet to handle subtlety and nuance.
CAT tools, though, have improved our output by making us more consistent and increasing our efficiency and productivity. Portals allow us to communicate faster and more effectively with our clients. The list goes on.
At the end of the day, the advancements are happening whether we like it or not and we’d do better to get on board and steer them in the right direction rather than get left on the platform. For now, anyway, it is sensible to see the tools as a supplement rather than a replacement.
Well, when it comes to legal translation, I’m surprised a crossover between the two fields of technology doesn’t currently exist – judging from my experience and from what I’ve been (un)able to find online so far, anyway. I thoroughly welcome any suggestions to the contrary.
I haven’t had much of a chance to really look into it yet and it would be interesting to play around with some of the Law Tech tools available – especially in drafting and in research – to see exactly where that potential for such a crossover lies. But I’m certain that potential there is, particularly in the area of research.