Keeping Translation Costs Down
We regularly encounter lawyers who cringe at the thought that the biggest expense involved in service of process abroad is often translation. Their misconception is either that language is no big deal, or that translators are a dime a dozen. Neither is true, but sticker shock can still be… well, shocking. So how do you avoid it?
Easy. Just pick an English-speaking defendant in an English-speaking country. Or at the very least, pick a country like Israel or the Netherlands, where most everybody speaks English anyway so they don’t specifically require translation under the Hague Service Convention.
Otherwise, yes, counsel, you do have to translate that thing. But the mere requirement to translate does not mean you can’t keep your costs down. Here are a few tips to reduce the price tag:
- Keep brevity in mind. Yes, this is difficult for lawyers. We’re the most verbose race of people on the planet. But remember that federal notice pleading gives you a great cost-cutting device. A “short and plain statement of the claim” is all you need. In state court, the pleading form varies, but there’s not a jurisdiction anywhere that actually wants longer pleadings. The court just wants them to be complete, so even in a fact pleading state, don’t write as if you’re being paid by the word. Just imagine you’re a 1L again, and your legal writing professor is barking at you to keep it under 1,000.
- Avoid exhibits where possible. If you can simply reference an ancillary document, then just reference the thing. Don’t include it as an attachment or exhibit. Exhibits sometimes comprise 90% of a translation bill—often unnecessarily. [Consult local rules, of course.]
- Ask your translation provider for a volume discount if you have a huge sheaf of documents (roughly 30,000 words or more). Much of the provider’s cost lies in the set-up of the project—the administrative burden is the same whether you’re worth six hundred dollars or six thousand—so a lower price-per-word is warranted with bigger projects.
- And shop around—translation is a hyper-competitive field, much like law. But be wary. Just as with lawyers, a low translation price tag does not usually correlate with quality, and you often get what you pay for. Ensure that the translation provider has at least some quality assurance process. The project should go through at least two people’s hands (the translator and an editor), preferably three (including a proofreader).
Above all, don’t cheap out—and don’t let your client cheap out either—because it will come back to haunt you.
- Bad idea: “Hey, Maria’s parents are Mexican—she can translate the docs into Spanish for us.”
- Worse idea: “Rob in accounting spent a year riding his motorcycle across China after college. Let’s have him do it.”
- Worst idea: “Google Translate.”
Never mind the fact that Maria is a fully qualified attorney whose time would be wasted on a translation project. Never mind that Rob in accounting is a math guy precisely because his verbal skills are horrible. Neither of them is a qualified translator, so get a pro to do it.
As for Google Translate…
[A new platform called Google Advocate (“Advocate” is a verb there) should roll out any day now. It will draft any legal document at the click of a mouse, for free. It may inadvertently convey your house to your college roommate, but hey, it’s free. What could possibly go wrong?]
A related caution: your translation provider may suggest that you hire an outside agency to handle the Hague Service Request on your behalf. While this is great advice, be wary here, too. The translator may recommend an agency that is not qualified to undertake Hague requests. In short, if that agency doesn’t have an attorney on staff to sign your USM-94, do not use them. If you accept their assertion that it’s not a problem, you’re accepting a legal conclusion from a non-attorney (see here for a bit more detail).