John Flood: What Do Lawyers Do?

John Flood has published a revised version of his book on a Chicago law firm, called Tischmann and Weinstock for the purposes of the book: What Do Lawyers Do? An ethnography of a corporate law firm. You can get the Kindle version, and the paper versions are due shortly.

John Flood has a website and a weblog called John Flood’s Random Academic Thoughts, where there is a post with more information on the book.

I have often wondered what lawyers do myself – the book is about business lawyers rather than litigators, whose role is easier to understand. Just as people who come straight from translation studies can’t usually translate, new lawyers can’t usually act as lawyers, so I never found it out, although the firm in the book sounds very similar to the Jewish law firm where I did my articles in London, down to the arrangement of the offices. The text is rather dry on the surface, a summary of analysis, but amusing between the lines.

The main activity of lawyers is talking on the telephone with persons other than Tischmann lawyers (31.1%). If we add talking with other Tischmann lawyers by telephone the percentage rises to 23.5 percent. The second largest activity is talking face to face with other Tischmann lawyers (12%). Talking with Tischmann lawyers and others takes up 18.1 percent of lawyers’ billable time. If we sum time spent at meetings outside the office (2.6%), office meetings (0.7%), telephoning and talking face to face, we find lawyers spend 53.9 percent of their chargeable time talking. Writing, however, takes up only 20.8 percent (16.3% – drafting; 4.5% – revising). … Research is an activity mainly carried out by associates.

All the office staff are considered.

All the support staff had to log in and out during the day. If they were late, their salaries were docked. Because they perceived their salaries already low, many secretaries left after having their salaries reduced. Much of the office gossip turned on how much of a “bastard” the office manager was, and who was about to suffer his wrath next. Some of the secretaries were aggrieved at how they were treated by the office manager. They felt he conveniently forgot the many occasions when they came in during weekends to help their attorneys, when he decided to dock their pay for some infraction.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest. I think I first read John Flood on barristers’ clerks, a mysterious species – here’s a blog post on them.

Economist on translation and the law

An article in The Economist on the growing demand for legal translation: Translating and the law.

It envisages this as a good prospect for underworked lawyers:

Specialised “e-discovery” software helps lawyers cull the masses of electronic data. But in international deals and lawsuits, such software must be run by cultural and linguistic experts to make sure the correct search terms are used and the right information is ferreted out. Translation is still something that computers do badly much of the time, especially when the topic (a drug patent, say) is a difficult one full of technical details.

The many law students wondering if the rotten legal job market will ever improve should take note. The twin forces of globalisation and technology may put many mediocre lawyers out of business. But those who master languages and computers may find themselves in demand.

There’s nothing wrong with lawyers translating – I am a Germanist who became a solicitor and spent 20 years teaching legal translation, for which there was at the beginning little demand and where I had to teach myself. But I hope those lawyers with language skills get some kind of training on what translation and working with related software involve, and above all have experience.

The article originates in New York and the discovery problems in the USA are particularly great. I think the patent translator Steve Vitek spends a lot of time telling his clients which Japanese patent documentation needs looking at more closely. I tell clients or potential clients what statutes or judgments are available in translation on the Internet and whether I think the translation is reliable. That sort of thing requires experience.

Tweeted by Helen Gibbons, retweeted by Kevin Lossner

Ferdinand von Schirach

Ferdinand von Schirach (grandson of Baldur) is a criminal defence attorney who has now published two books of stories about his clients which have topped the best-seller lists, are being filmed and translated.

The first book was Verbrechen (August 2009). I got it as a birthday present this year. I thought it was wonderful. The stories are based on real cases, but mixed up so the characters can’t be identified. Schirach uses a minimalist style. In a German interview (FAZ), he says that most crime novelists never experience a crime, so they sit in cafés and fill their books with descriptions.

Die meisten Leute, die Krimis schreiben, erleben keine Krimis, sondern sitzen in Prenzlauer Berg bei einem Cappuccino und denken sich die Welt aus. Deswegen müssen sie sehr ausführlich beschreiben, wie jemand mit Messer und Gabel gegessen hat, dass die Tischdecke ausgefranst war, dass der Himmel sich zuzuziehen begann . . . Ich hab’ da einfach Glück. Ich hab’ einfach diese Geschichten und kann die dann auch relativ kurz schreiben.

The second book was Schuld (August 2010), which I borrowed a few weeks ago. This time I was disappointed. The book lender thought these must be the stories which were rejected for the first book. I thought Schirach might be indulging himself following his success on the market.

The first book told the stories in a minimalist style. The second one seemed to me as if someone had taken a haiku and spoilt it with emotions and the author’s opinions.

Denis Scheck said the books are OK but they are not really literature, and their only real appeal is that they appear to reflect ‘reality’ (I quote from memory, and hope I am not distorting it).

Take the end of the first story in Schuld:

Nach der Haftprüfung gingen mein Studienfreund und ich zum Bahnhof. Wir hätten über den Sieg der Verteidigung sprechen können oder über den Rhein neben den Gleisen oder über irgendetwas. Aber wir saßen auf der hölzernen Bank, von der die Farbe abblätterte, und keiner wollte etwas sagen. Wir wussten, dass wir unsere Unschuld verloren hatten und dass das keine Rolle spielte. Wir schwiegen auch noch im Zug in unseren neuen Anzügen neben den kaum benutzten Aktentaschen, und während wir nach Hause fuhren, dachte wir an das Mädchen und die ordentlichen Männer und sahen uns nicht an. Wir waren erwachsen geworden, und als wir ausstiegen, wussten wir, dass die Dinge nie wieder einfach sein würden.

This goes too far for me. There is more of this in this second book, but some in the first too. I reread that, and I still love the story of the two neo-Nazis in the station (Notwehr).

In an interview in New Books in German, Schirach described his technique of mixing stories:

The essence of each story is true. You have to imagine it as one of those beautiful old printers’ typesetting cases. When you have been a Criminal Defence Lawyer your whole life, then you have quite a stock of typesetting cases full of people, events and little episodes. And I then put these together anew for a story. The only thing that I don’t change is the basic tone of a case, the motive, the atmosphere.

Of course, we are spoilt for simple and thought-provoking stories of crime by some German lawyers’ weblogs, such as law blog and Strafprozesse und andere Ungereimtheiten.

Thanks to Katy Derbyshire for the link to New Books in German.

Translating foreign-language litigation documents/Übersetzung für Gerichtsverhandlungen

An article by Erik Sherman at law. com, Don’t Let Litigation Get Lost in Translation
Can language conversion software cut cross-border litigation bills?

discusses the problems for a litigation lawyer of dealing with a huge amount of foreign-language material. One has heard tales of US lawyers being presented with truckloads of papers at the discovery stage (Offenlegung).

The conclusions seem to be:

Use machine translation (MT) to get a rough idea of which documents might be worth translating

The article mentions free software and implies that there are other systems. It doesn’t mention the possibility, if you often work with a particular language, of ‘training’ an in-house MT system to translate certain terms in a certain way, to expect legal terminology rather than general terminology and so on. Nor does it mention the problems of optical character recognition (OCR) if the documents are poor faxes. They may even be handwritten. If documents are not in electronic form, you might need to call in a translator to help you sift them. I remember Steve Vitek‘s stories of helping lawyers sort through Japanese patents.

If you need to keep an eye out for keywords, get a translator to identify them in the foreign language, since if they are inconsistently MTd, you may overlook them in English.

Get important documents translated by a human translator

For languages using a different alphabet or writing system, get a translator to identify possible software problems in advance

If you have to use several human translators, use a computer-aided translation system (CAT – translation memory) or at least a glossary to keep them consistent on the main terminology

Don’t let your lawyers change to a foreign language to discuss sensitive issues in the hope that the other side won’t notice what you’re up to

A law firm’s translation department should know a lot of this already. But maybe there are fewer translation departments in the USA.

The article doesn’t go into detail on what law firms need to know, for instance when it obliquely refers to CAT.

Once down to the critical documents, it’s time for human translation. But even here, translation technology plays an important role. Not only can it help jump-start an experienced translator’s efforts, but it can also enforce important uniformity of translation. “A lot of words are subject to multiple interpretations, so what can happen is that you can have two duplicates that have been translated differently, and it can have consequences,” says Constantine Cannon’s Solow. The more translators working on a matter, the greater the chance for variability in translation. Professional translation tools can “learn” specific translation choices and then present them as preferred options to any translator on the team. The translators then feed refined translations back into the tools, increasing the speed of the entire process. And suddenly, you’re ready for court before you can count un, deux, trois.

Sounds great. I incline more to quatre-vingts-dix myself.

I would add to the above: if you have a good translator who knows about software, don’t underestimate their value to you.

This is a weird statement:

The problem of trusting a translation becomes even more critical when dealing with many Asian languages, in which a single character can represent a complex concept. “One of those characters could have hundreds, maybe even thousands of meanings,” says Duncan McCampbell, president of international business consultancy McCampbell Global and a former litigator. “There are characters in Chinese [for example] that have no equivalent in English.”

(Via MA Translation Studies News)

Lawyers’ costs compared/Anwaltskosten England und Deutschland

The Jackson Report on the reform of civil litigation costs in the UK was published in January 2010.

The final report and the two volumes of the preliminary report can be downloaded here.

Interestingly, at the end of the second volume of the preliminary report there are descriptions of the system in other countries, for instance Chapter 55: Germany, pp. 555 to 565.

1.1 The German rules of civil procedure contemplate cost shifting, albeit according to well-defined scales for recovery. The effect may be that a successful litigant is entitled to recover a smaller proportion of its actual fees than would be recoverable in England and Wales.
1.2 The German system permits the use of contingency fees only in limited circumstances, namely where a claimant does not have the means to retain lawyers for his case. Legal aid is available in certain civil cases.
1.3 In Germany, civil litigation is managed by the court so that it controls the proceedings and the evidence that is brought before it. One method by which the court does this is to appoint experts to assist the court on relevant factual issues, rather than leaving it to the parties to adduce their own expert evidence.

Useful footnotes too:

According to German Civil Procedure Code section 3(1), the value of the dispute is to be determined by the court in its “absolute discretion”. I am advised, however, by senior German judges that in practice no discretion is involved when the litigation concerns quantified or readily quantifiable claims.

Interesting reading and good for vocabulary too.

Returning to the UK, the shadow on the horizon is LPO – Legal Process Outsourcing, which will permit some work to be outsourced, for instance to India.

(Via the euleta list at Yahoo Groups).

Refresher/Sonderhonorar für Barrister

The Oxford English Dictionary has a word-of-the-day service. Today’s word is refresher, and one meaning is the one that sprang to mind immediately:

refresher Sonderhonorar für den Anwalt (Br barrister) (bei längerer Verhandlungsdauer)

refresher außerordentliche Anwaltsgebühr (bei langandauerndem Prozess bzw. mehrtägiger Verhandlung)


2. Law.

a. An extra fee paid to counsel when a case lasts longer than originally expected or allowed for.
1796 Attorney & Agent’s New Table of Costs (ed. 5) 222 Refresher to Mr. Bearcroft. 1831 F. REYNOLDS Playwright’s Adventures vi. 108 He also knew that barristers..can only be kept alive by refreshers. 1881 Times 19 Feb. 10/3 It is therefore recommended that daily refreshers should be abolished, as being one of the principal causes of the undue lengthening of trials. 1933 H. ALLEN Anthony Adverse xlix. 740 My retainer is reasonable, my refreshers modest, my reputation unblemished. 1991 Investors Chron. 26 July 68/3 The refreshers or daily fees will never be less than £1,000.

{dag}b. A revised brief. Obs. rare.
1852 T. DE QUINCEY Sketch from Childhood in Hogg’s Instructor 8 2/1 Every fortnight, or so, I took care that he should rec

eive a ‘refresher’, as lawyers call it{em}a new and revised brief{em}memorialising my pretensions.

Barristers’ chambers on BBC radio/Radiosendung zu Barristern

There have recently been two half-hour programmes on BBC Radio 4 on which members of Outer Temple Chambers speak about their working lives.

There is particular emphasis on the impact of the 2007 Legal Services Act, which is about to liberalize the legal services market.

The programmes can still be listened to online, even outside the UK.

Mr Bean as banker/Britische Banken von Mr. Bean verwaltet

Business owners try (successfully) to stave off being wound up:

‘It aint our fault, the stoopid court froze the bank account so we cuddent pay the stoopid bill could we, but we done it today some’ow like’

The other director chipped in ‘Yeah, our account is managed by the banking equivalent of Mr Bean’

Everyone looked at the judge. Possibly because these two guys looked as if they meant business and would beat up anyone who would disagree with them.

The judge looked up ‘I am afraid that you will find that the whole British banking system is being run by the equivalent of Mr Bean!’

From an entry about winding up day at the law courts in London by Swiss Tony.

Another entry on the same topic by Paranoid Pupil.

Yours sincerely/Mit kollegialen Grüßen

Having today already been confronted with ‘Sehr geehrte Kolleginnen und Kollegen’ addressed to persons outside Germany, I am wondering about ‘Mit kollegialen Grüßen’, but that’s easy: ‘Yours sincerely’ (at least in British English).

Michael Kadlicz in Wiener Neustadt – is that still Vienna? – received this from a fellow-lawyer:

Sehr geehrter Herr Kollege Mag. Kadlicz!

Aufgrund eines bedauerlichen Versehens habe ich bemerkt, dass in der letzten Nachricht in der Schlussformel das Wort “kollegiale” Grüße nicht aufgenommen war. Ich bitte dieses Versehen höflich zu entschuldigen, wie Sie mich ja bereits kennen, bringe ich Ihnen selbstverständlich die volle kollegiale Wertschätzung entgegen.

Ich zeichne mit
freundlichen kollegialen Grüßen

Not really translatable, I’m afraid.

If I were registered to comment at, I would comment on the first sentence. Is it the regrettable oversight that the writer noticed his omission? Translators tend to correct this kind of thing.

I love the firm’s website – must have changed since I last saw it. Blog.

Interviews with Supreme Court Justices/Video-Interviews mit US Supreme-Court-Richtern

At LawProse, Inc.

In 2006-2007, Bryan Garner interviewed eight of the nine Justices about legal writing and advocacy. These are the complete interviews. Because the files are large, the videos may take a few moments to start playing.

LawProse is making these interviews available as a public service. Anyone may freely use these videos for educational purposes, with appropriate attribution to Bryan Garner or LawProse.

(Via The Illinois Trial Practice Weblog)