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An International Document Management Matter

Tips from a paralegal who has successfully managed a complex project.

By Nancy Ritter

(Originally appeared in print as "Foreign Affairs")

July/August 2003 Table of Contents


When it comes to handling a huge number of documents in a complicated piece of litigation, Katherine Carroll is an avowed believer in finding the most common-sense approach possible. The Washington, D.C., paralegal said she has a mantra: “Simplicity is the key.”

Simplicity in a large litigation matter is, however, frequently more difficult to achieve than it might seem. Before moving to the nation’s capitol to work on a major patent infringement lawsuit, Carroll was a products liability paralegal in Charleston, S.C., where the documents in one asbestos case involving the World Trade Center filled two 18-wheeler trucks when they were shipped to New York City for trial.

But if “complex” described that massive-document case, the word took on new meaning when she undertook a recent assignment with her employer, Sughrue Mion.

An intellectual property firm, Sughrue Mion currently represents a Japanese company, called Daiichi Pharmaceutical, which — along with Johnson & Johnson and Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical — is suing Mylan Laboratories over an alleged patent infringement of an antibacterial drug used to treat lung, skin, sinus and urinary-tract infections.

Many multiparty lawsuits can involve a large number of documents. However, the Mylan case offers an interesting twist: The bulk of the client’s documents are in Japanese. For Carroll, the challenge was to quickly find a way to unlock the mystery of a complex language while not losing track of her main paralegal priority, which was to manage the documents and keep the case moving along to best help the firm’s client.

Rise to the Challenge

Drop thousands of documents in front of a paralegal, tell that paralegal to find a way to organize it and, by the way, mention that a good portion of those documents are in Japanese and you are likely to witness a unique response. Experienced paralegals will tell you document organization is a subject-neutral undertaking: document management and database systems frankly don’t care if the documents involved concern nuclear fission or the manufacturing of bottle caps … or if they are in Japanese, for that matter.

“Once you have solid paralegal experience, the subject matter doesn’t really matter,” Carroll noted. “It’s all about knowing how to organize.”

That isn’t to say the translation of thousands of documents — along with charts and graphs and chemical formulae — from Japanese to English doesn’t present a challenge. It merely means paralegals must focus not so much on the actual dearth of work but, at least initially, on the flexible structure they must construct that allows them to be efficient information managers.

The law firm organized the client’s Japanese documents using a Bates numbering system.

“I have seen lots of paralegals make the mistake of organizing documents in a complex manner,” Carroll explained. “But attorneys just want to find the document they are looking for, so the most important thing is to make sure documents are easily accessible, especially if I am not around.”

Coordinate Your Efforts

Long before Carroll joined the firm, or a management system for handling the case’s documents was conceived, documents had to be collected from the firm’s client in Japan.

One of the litigation team members charged with this task was paralegal Trenton Osborne. He spent many weeks in Tokyo culling through various documents, organizing them as best as he could and arranging for their transport to the United States.

Meanwhile, the firm’s paralegal coordinator, Mary Krizan, was back in Washington, D.C., trying to figure out a document management system, as well as a way to get the documents translated into English as quickly as possible.

“We needed a fast — a very fast — turnaround,” she said.

First, Krizan chose a software program manufactured by Dataflight Software Inc.’s Concordance to organize the massive document matter. She said she oversaw the Concordance training for the firm attorneys and paralegals on the case.

With a selected method for tracking and organizing the documents, Krizan’s next priority was to find outside companies to handle the translation of the thousands of documents from Japanese into English. One of the two firms Sughrue Mion ultimately selected was TransPerfect Translations, a global company the law firm had experience working with previously.

Translation Factors

Most litigation paralegals understand short deadlines; they live and breathe in a professional world where the work product was expected yesterday. But the translation requirements in this case pushed the envelope.

Consider this: The first Japanese document in the lawsuit was sent to TransPerfect at the end of December, and, by mid-March, 2,361,850 words had been translated.

Lisa Sherfinski, Carroll’s point-person at TransPerfect on the translation project, described the challenge in achieving the firm’s goal: “When I receive a document from Katherine, I do a rough word count and give her an estimated turnaround — and typically she needs it 10-times faster.”

One thing every paralegal who works on a large document case understands is that a single document, such as a three-page internal memo, for example, is likely to show up two, 10 or even 100 times in a company’s business records. That memo might be a discreet document in someone’s file, and it might be attached to a report in another file.

In some instances, the same memo also might contain handwritten notes or other marginalia. When it comes to creating a translation of the document itself, consistency among the multiple copies is crucial. It’s also critical for a paralegal handling such a case to communicate with document preparation companies and translation services to ensure these duplicate or repeat text documents are not overlooked.

“When people come to us for translation services, they are most often shopping based on price,” Sherfinski said. In doing so, she said, individuals and businesses seeking translation services often don’t know what they are looking at beyond the bottom line.

“Some companies have multiple steps to handling a project. For instance, we have in-house proofreaders and translators for every dialect. Some small mom-and-pop shops out there might not be able to provide you with the resources you need. But if you are only comparing price, you will miss the most important element of the services any such company could provide,” Sherfinski explained.

She advised paralegals looking for quality translation services for their firm’s documents to make sure they compare like-companies if price is a point of consideration in the search.

Also, Sherfinski said you should know as much as possible about the documents you have before beginning your search. Knowing what language they are in is only the first and most basic step.

Questions to pose to document providers or your supervisors before beginning your search include:

  • How many languages are involved in the different documents?
  • How many documents are there?
  • How will the firm decide what and how many documents to translate, and when?
  • Will the potential translation company be able to meet deadline expectations?
  • Will the documents need to be scanned and converted to digital files before submitting to the translation company?
  • How many experts will proof the translated documents before turning them over to the firm?
  • At what stages are original documents compared against translated versions, and by whom?

Translators should make sure every line in every document has been translated, and that the Bates number and any internal numbers issued by the translation service correspond on the original documents and the translated documents. Quality translation services will guarantee like formatting from the original, or any formatting changes you specify at the outset.

For example, if a line breaks in the translation document, that break must match its corresponding line break in the original document. All charts and graphs also must be properly placed and accurately correspond to the original material.

As a precautionary measure, paralegals who oversee the translation of foreign documents should have any translation service maintain a record of who translated each particular document, as well as the linguist’s expertise and qualifications. Most reputable translation services will provide this information, Sherfinski said. However, paralegals should ask for it nonetheless.

Get Organized And Stay Organized

Once all the players were in position with clearly defined roles, the next obstacle for Carroll and company was assessing what they had and how it should be addressed within the means at their disposal.

In the Mylan matter, some of the documents had previously been translated — or at least summarized — by the firm’s client in Japan; some had been translated in the United States; a few were actually in the process of being translated when Carroll signed on; some were in the possession of the firm’s co-counsel in Baltimore; and others were simply in boxes, awaiting a determination of whether they needed to be translated.

Carroll said she created a tracking system, including flagging the documents in Concordance to indicate if they were “pending,” meaning if they were in the process of being translated. Then she set about coordinating the availability of documents with the needs of the legal team.

Simple Management

With careful consideration and according to Carroll’s mantra, keeping it simple, she said management of the Mylan project has been mostly a matter of using the existing system and structure that already had been implemented, along with some basics common to all litigation matters, such as using a Bates numbering system.

Because the case is an ongoing matter in the courts, Carroll and her co-workers can’t relate the specific details of how their efforts have fared thus far or the intimate details of how specifically the firm’s document management system is set up.

However, Carroll did say successfully coordinating the database implementation, data entry as well as data management, along with the translation of pertinent Japanese documents, has allowed the litigation team at her firm to focus on working for the client’s best interest, which is the most important thing of all.



Advice from a Pro
A paralegal expert shares his insight on handling document management
and what you need to know.
By Rod Hughes

Long before Holland & Knight’s Senior Legal Assistant Lee Paige, CLA, found himself on the cover of Legal Assistant Today (see “Bad Times at Belmont High” May/June 2000 LAT), he and a co-worker were knee-deep in litigation documents — thousands of them. After successful completion of a $176 million lawsuit involving dozens of parties, their legal representatives and entire rooms full of documents, Paige found himself speaking to groups about document management and counseling up-and-coming legal assistants on what they can expect from their profession.

In an interview with LAT, Paige advised paralegals to identify three critical planning elements before handling document management:

  • the assembly and categorization of documents by source of origin

  • the creation and maintenance of a searchable, uniform computer database

  • the production of working copies and keeping them separate from the originals.

“Two misconceptions [about document management] are that there is only one correct way to manage a large document universe and that document management should always be supervised by an attorney,” Paige noted. He explained that because information on appropriate paralegal utilization is lacking at some firms and because attorneys are not trained to use paralegals effectively, such misconceptions continue to plague law firms that could make better use of their resources.

Noting the common use of software such as Concordance by Dataflight, Summation by Summation Legal Technologies and Microsoft Access for document management purposes, Paige said paralegals would benefit professionally from having more than a passing familiarity with today’s software tools. He recommended career-oriented paralegals seek training through both employers and private resources such as community colleges, local associations and specialized training programs.

“An exceptional paralegal will [always remain] vigilant in seeking new software offerings that could streamline the document management process and [provide a] benefit to his or her employer, and ultimately, the client,” Paige explained.

He also suggested seeking out materials like West’s “Paralegal Today – The Legal Team at Work” for those looking to learn more about effective document management. In addition, Paige suggested those looking for more advanced document management training consider a company called CaseCentral that offers an in-house continuing education course for paralegals and attorneys called “Discovery 1, 2, 3: Managing Electronic Discovery in the Age of Technology.”

“Litigation in the age of technology requires a basic understanding of electronic data. It isn’t restricted to just large, complex, high-tech cases. Today, litigators and paralegals must be aware of the impact electronic data might have on the outcome of their case,” Paige said.



Nancy Ritter is a legal editor in Washington, D.C. Before going into legal journalism, she was a paralegal for 22 years in Minnesota, Washington state and New Jersey, where she worked in personal injury, medical malpractice and white-collar criminal defense. As a reporter, Nancy has won numerous awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including first-place prizes in 2001 for investigative reporting, profile-writing and series-writing for her work at New Jersey Lawyer newspaper.



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