How secure machine translation can help legal firms build trust

Emma Wheal 06 Oct 2023 7 mins
Language Weaver RWS
The need for translations within the legal sector has grown exponentially with law firms facing a huge array of documents and data with tight turnaround time pressure. At the same time, law firms and counsel must protect confidential and sensitive data at all times as a top priority. They also need to navigate a complex web of regulatory requirements, with non-compliance leading to severe consequences, including potential financial penalties or loss of certifications. With pressing deadlines never far away, and the need to deliver a globalized service growing all the time, it’s an unsustainable position for legal organizations. This is where a modern machine translation (MT) technology can play a key role in addressing some of the multilingual challenges faced by legal firms.
With machine translation legal teams can connect and operate faster and more effectively across every language. However, not all MT technologies are equal, and this raises significant security concerns.
So how can law firms fight back against heightened client expectations while addressing the data security issues encountered when translating confidential documents? 

Translation target

MT processes an extensive range of potentially sensitive textual data for the legal sector from contracts, depositions, and documentation across multiple languages. Given the sheer volume and variety of the data that can be handled by MT, the risk of data leakage is significant and serious.
According to a report by cybersecurity firm Checkpoint Research the rate of global weekly cyberattacks rose by 7% in the first financial quarter of 2023 compared with the same period in 2022. In addition, the National Cyber Security Centre says the UK legal sector alone is facing a range of online threats from criminals seeking financial gain to nation states looking to steal data. 
Moreover, the complex linguistic algorithms powering MT necessitate advanced software resources and complex computing architectures, potentially drawing the attention of cybercriminals.
Organizations that want to enable global communication and collaboration without compromising their security should consider investing in machine translation technology built for global enterprises.

Ethical and regulatory compliance

Legal professionals are bound by a code of ethics. In the American Bar Association (ABA) Rule 1.6. Confidentiality of information ‘A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted’.
In the UK it is a legal practice’s overriding professional obligation, as set out in the professional standards, in the SRA’s Standards and Regulations, the Bar Standards Board’s handbook, and is common law, under the Legal Services Act 2007.
Working across borders and having the ability to include global voices in decisions creates a better working environment and leads to better business results. However, information travels quickly, and security missteps can quickly escalate into public relations nightmares, customer attrition, and even regulatory fines.
As data regulations and compliance requirements continue to evolve and bring additional complexities, it is vital for firms to check their translation provisioning is suitable.

Client confidentiality and trust

Much of a law firm’s reputation is built on its ability to handle and preserve confidential client data.
Clients like to receive and provide information in their native language or perhaps multiple languages, meaning there is great commercial value to an organization that can accommodate this seamlessly. 
A breach in confidential client data can result in the erosion of trust, damage to the firm’s reputation and result in loss of clientele. Preventing data breaches or leaks and ensuring continued compliance with data regulations is, therefore, of paramount importance for legal organizations.
Free online translation tools may be convenient for casual use by consumers—such as translating a restaurant menu in a foreign country—but they are not fit for business purposes because they lack the all-important security and privacy of data that is legally required when handling sensitive or privileged information. Therefore, employees’ use of such public tools that store and share translated content poses serious security and compliance risks for the practice. In fact, inputting confidential data into free online translation tools is in direct breach of several high-profile legislations, including HIPAA and GDPR.
To safeguard against any accidental data breaches and potential IP losses, enterprise MT must be easily accessible from intranet portals and common business software such as Microsoft Office so employees can quickly, conveniently, and securely perform translations of business content inside the company network.

Choosing a secure translation software

As firms navigate these risks, a standard off-the-shelf public cloud MT system and its underlying security options may not suffice. What is required is an MT system that not only provides robust translation capabilities but also incorporates security as a core fundamental principle of its design and function at all levels.
Key factors to look out for include:
  • Secure communication: ensures secure communication between client and platform. Encrypted communication protocol prevents unauthorized access and interception of data during transmission, safeguarding the confidentiality and integrity of processed content.
  • Data handling and retention: a platform that is designed to minimize data retention and ensure that customer content is not stored beyond the time strictly required to perform the translation and return the results, and ensures that client data is not exposed to unnecessary risks.  
  • Access control and authentication: a platform verifies user permissions before allowing access to translation services, ensuring that only authorized personnel can utilize the system. Access to data should be restricted to just those who require it. 
  • Compliance with industry standards: ISO27001 certification is an internationally recognized standard for information security management systems. By partnering with an ISO27001-certified provider, law firms can have confidence in their commitment to safeguarding data and maintaining the highest standards of information security. Adherence to GDPR and other relevant data protection laws, ensures that customer data is handled in accordance with legal requirements.
  • Commitment to ongoing security assessments and monitoring: a continual monitoring and assessment process ensures that the platform remains secure and up-to-date with the latest security best practices.
The advent of big data means the outlook for legal teams is rapidly evolving, and high volumes of instant translations are more critical than ever.  This calls for a robust, comprehensive, and tailored security approach— an MT system that will safeguard the information you are translating, protect any information used to configure the system, integrate into existing workflows, and allow for robust control and oversight.
Those who seek a secure translation solution are the ones who will meet today’s increased client expectations and win more business. Accelerate insight across multilingual legal documents and data, download our 'Accelerate multilingual legal documents and data' ebook.
Emma Wheal RWS

Emma Wheal

Marketing Manager
Emma is Marketing Manager for Language Weaver at RWS, delivering thought leadership on machine translation solutions for global organizations.
All from Emma Wheal