Thursday, February 14, 2008

Inside an International Negotiation

Yesterday, Dr. Chen Ke of AllBright Law Offices in Shanghai spoke at USD School of Law on the formation of foreign invested enterprises. The real gem of the presentation was Dr. Chen's description of international negotiations.

Negotiations typically take place in a conference room with a long table. The principal negotiators, typically someone below the CEO because the CEOs are off "drinking and having fun," sit across from each other in the middle of the table. On one side of the negotiator is the numbers guy and on the other side is an attorney. The attorney's job is not to speak, but to quietly consult with their negotiator. Next to the attorney sits "The Troublemaker," the interpreter. The interpreter is likely fluent in both of the languages being spoken, but it is unlikely that an interpreter is fluent in the legalese of each respective language. This interpreter whispers mistranslations of legal terms of art into the ear of the attorney who whispers legal interpretations based upon mistranslations into the ear of the negotiator, and the negotiation begins to go sour in this game of telephone. Dr. Chen pointed out that the next negotiation often goes much smoother because the interpreter has lost all face and remains silent throughout.


Howard Lee said...


Great article. I find it interesting though that there is a need even for an interpreter. I would have thought that there are enough bilingual lawyers in the industry to make the role of interpreters obsolete. But I guess it doesn't matter since the interpreter loses all face anyway and stays silent.

So I guess we better learn our Chinese/English legalese.

Howard Lee said...

Actually your article reminds me of my earlier effort at learning the Chinese Copyright Law. I had my girlfriend helping me and she works as a Chinese translator for the City of San Francisco. There were moments where I wanted to grab her shoulders and continuously shaker her while yelling "What are you talking about!!" Turns out it was all just misunderstanding because she didn't really understand english legal terms and was having problems telling me whether the article was defining the process of obtaining copyright or the definition of what is a copyright holder/owner. Long story short and several arguments later, we figured out the article but boy was it frustrating.

Will Lewis said...

Hey Howard,

I was going to write something along the lines of check out the recent post at China Law Blog, but I see you saw that. I guess that's part of our training in law school, learning a language with its own rules vaguely related to English...

Howard Lee said...

Hey Will,

I have this idea for a project to help us learn and understand legal Chinese. I'm going to try to set this up in the next week. Basically there is this program called adsotrans. Here is the website:

Try it out. Basically you can input in Chinese characters and the program parses and tries to translate. I'm going to host a site and use adsos to parse out the articles of law. At the same time I'll edit the translation and clean up the character parsing so it will make sense. Anyway let me know if you think this will be helpful to you and get your opinion.

I tried adsos and inputted in articles of chinese law. Its great for learning to recognize words but the the translation is not so great. The good news is that other people can go and edit on there own by doubleclicking on the highlighted characters. Try it out if you get the chance.

Will Lewis said...


Great idea. I'm going to give this a try. It looks like adso uses a neural network to adapt its translations, very cool.

Apparently I've been using Adso all along because they say they support ChinesePera-kun plugin for Firefox. This plugin is pretty neat. When you turn it on and put the mouse cursor over 汉字 it translates the characters in a popout box.

I look forward to your site!