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Foreign Language Document Review 101: Getting Started

Foreign Language Document Review 101

Getting Started With Foreign Language Document Review

An everyday scenario: You’ve got a new document review project coming in. Great. No sweat, right? 

Hold on. Turns out that some of the documents look like this:


Is that Japanese? Is that Simplified Chinese? Which character style does Taiwanese use again? It might be Korean… If you aren’t a native APAC reader, you know you are in over your head.

You start searching and clicking and very quickly that “some” turns into hundreds of documents… thousands… 65,000 and counting.  Time to start sweating. Whether you’d planned for it or not, you’ve now migrated into foreign language document review (FLDR) territory. Welcome.

What next? Even if you can read Japanese yourself, you’ll still need help getting through 65k+ docs. (By the way, if you think it’s logical to assume that foreign language documents take longer to review and therefore get produced nice and early on in discovery, you’re right. If you think that ever happens in real life, Drink Coke, Play Again.)

So how on earth do you staff this foreign language review on short notice?

Yeah, this should have been settled in your 26(f).  But if not, don’t freak out. It happens every day. 

Here’s a freebie from our team at BIA:

How to Staff FLDR Projects (The Short Version)

Step 0:  Realize you can’t do this yourself. 

Wait, what? Acceptance really is the first step. Successful FLDR projects require a vetted set of individuals with attention to detail, efficient work styles, and flexibility, in addition to skilled reading and writing abilities in both the target language AND English. With your time and money at a premium, we recommend working with a vendor who can smartly staff and work with you all the way to the end of the review. (This is where BIA can come in and save the FLDR day.) 

If you’ve already got a vetted stable of contractors, you probably don’t need to keep reading. (Also, you probably weren’t this blog to begin with.) But if you’re not yet sourcing from a reliable team of foreign language reviewers, read on…

Step 1:  Find reviewers.

Duh. How? You can post an ad.  Don’t be surprised when you get 500 responses. Better create that rule in your Outlook Inbox before you start hearing from linguists, attorneys, bilingual/bi-cultural professionals, career translators, other target language speakers, people who took one semester of the language in college or others who went to teach English in Asia after college.

>> Is it worth your billable hour to go through them all?

Step 2:  Decide on pay rate.

What is the going rate? Hourly pay rate fluctuates based on a few factors, but the basic concept is plain old supply and demand. The going rate can depend on the difficulty of the language, the number of reviewers in your city who speak the target language (unless you’re running a remote review–another BIA specialty), and how many other FLDR projects are out there when you go shopping for reviewers.

If there are many Japanese doc review projects going on simultaneously, there’s more demand for Japanese reviewers, and some seasoned reviewers will even wait out the bidding war in hopes of getting a higher rate from a different firm or agency.

If there are fewer projects going on, the going rate might dip a bit, since more reviewers will be looking for that less abundant work and might be willing to accept a lower rate just to have the work.

>> Have you kept up on the current landscape of FLDR cases and projects? 

Step 3:  Decide whether you need attorneys.

Why? Typically, pay rates for FLDR attorneys run significantly higher than for non-barred linguists.  Some clients mandate that all reviewers are barred attorneys. Some don’t care as long as you can deliver speed, quality and accuracy. Others may start with a strict, attorneys-only policy but later open up to non-attorneys in the interest of time, money or both. Make sure to have that conversation–the earlier, the better.

>> Is your client willing to pay attorney rates?

Quick tip 1:  Request two resume formats. 

If you do post an ad, ask FLDR candidates to submit their resumes in both Word and PDF formats.  If someone doesn’t send both versions, don’t consider that candidate. Why automatically eliminate?  Hey, if they can’t follow a simple instruction like this from the get-go, then you don’t want them working on your FLDR project, where attention to detail is paramount.

Quick tip 2:  Ask for ALTA and English scores. 

Sure, request an ALTA score, or another foreign language assessment service, for the FLDR target language.  But also, always request an English document review score.  Why?  We’ll discuss this in a future blog post…

Okay.  You put in the time, did your homework, and you’ve put together your Japanese language FLDR contractor crew.  Ready to start training and reviewing. Congratulations! 

Oh, wait.  One eagle-eyed reviewer has realized that in addition to the Japanese, thousands of other docs are in Chinese—some simplified characters, some traditional.  You’ll start the staffing process again, and possibly again… Ready to hit the ground running this time?  

BIA has staffed and managed many foreign language document review projects over the years, and we have refined and streamlined our FLDR workflows.  Smart staffing at the outset is essential to managing a successful and cost-effective project.  BIA will share more FLDR staffing and management tips in blog posts coming up; stay tuned. 

And if you’re still sweating after reading this, get in touch with BIA today

Stephen Perih, Esq., CEDS

Stephen Perih, Esq., CEDS

Stephen Perih, Esq., CEDS is a National Account Director and Senior Director of Foreign Language Document Review at BIA. In addition to handling many of BIA’s high level corporate and law firm clients, Stephen has extensive experience staffing and managing both in-office and remote document review projects for cases of varying sizes and linguistic requirements. He is highly sought after as a document review consultant, successfully helping clients using his knowledge, expertise and resources for all of their eDiscovery needs. Stephen holds degrees from Vassar College and New York Law School.