We’ve blogged about legal translation services and foreign language legal document review by bilingual and multilingual attorneys and JDs. By definition, a keyword search is a set-based search using simple words or a combination of words, with or without Boolean and related operators. The purpose is to reduce large sets of documents to more easily navigable groups by returning documents that contain certain words, dates or other parameters as specified by a user. This in essence is the core concept of how a search engine such as Google operates.
In the legal world, the courts have traditionally been responsive to using simple keyword searches in responding to a discovery demand involving electronic documents. However, keyword searches are not perfect and have a tendency of being over or under inclusive because of the ambiguity of language. More so, when foreign language translations are involved, the usefulness decreases further. Even if a document refers to the keyword event, if that exact keyword or words are not used in the document, it will be overlooked in the search.
This fact could open the door to a malpractice suit. If an essential document is not produced because the producing attorney’s keyword search overlooks it, can that attorney be held ethically responsible for not producing all the documents requested? Although the courts still lean towards keyword searches for their efficiency and expense saving, ethic boards seem to be moving in the other direction.