The Association of Language Companies
The language services industry has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. There are many more language services companies operating today than ever in the US and elsewhere. The reason is simple: The demand for services is greater and more diverse than ever. Contributing to this growth in demand for language services are: the increasing diversity of the US population and the steep rise in the number of companies marketing their products and services globally, among others. Growth in sales, of course, does not ensure an accompanying rise in quality. In the language services industry, an increase in the number of providers has made it more difficult for some clients to identify quality firms from among the many that might respond to an RFP.
The Association of Language Companies, the US trade association for the owners of language companies, was formed in 2002 by nine firms that wanted to encourage growth in the industry. However, they were equally concerned with finding ways to improve the quality of work performed by the association’s members- and to help clients both appreciate the need for quality and identify those firms able to produce high-quality work.
Two years ago, the ALC began developing an ongoing investigation into ways to develop standards that will raise the bar for accepted levels of quality service in the industry. The resulting objectives were put into the first draft of a long-term Strategic Plan.
The document was substantially revised during the ALC’s annual leadership retreat held in January of this year.
The ALC Strategic Plan includes several long-term objectives designed to increase the level of professionalism among ALC-member companies. But the most recent iteration of the document was revised in part to include a number of short-term objectives to help address the need for all members to find ways to demonstrate to clients their high levels of quality service and professionalism. This group includes nearly 150 companies in the US and 13 other countries, ranging from small one- and two-person firms yet to celebrate their first anniversary, to companies of every size that have celebrated their third decade in business.
In September the ALC announced that it had accomplished another of these short-term goals by completing its latest offering designed to encourage greater professionalism among language services companies: a new model client contract for its members. The contract was the result of nearly a year of work by the ALC’s Norms Committee, which earlier in 2007 had unveiled a model vendor contract for translators and interpreters.
Newer companies will benefit most from the ALC’s model contracts. That’s because they won’t have to start with a blank page or a borrowed sample from another language company that cannot reflect the collective industry experience represented among the Norms Committee’s members. They include one company president, Steve Kahaner of Juriscribe, who is also an attorney.
Even long-standing companies, however, have found the model client contract valuable, among them ALC President Marla Schulman, of Schreiber Translations, Inc. "We’ve been in business for more than 20 years," Schulman notes, "and have had our own client contract in place for most of that time. After comparing the ALC model client contract to our own, my staff found several useful new clauses in the ALC model, which our legal advisors subsequently reviewed and incorporated into our own contract."
Of course, any model, including this one, has one essential practical benefit: It protects member organizations and their clients from assumptive terms, conditions and deliverables. According to ALC Norms Committee Chair Jon Sommers of CyraCom, "by establishing standard language we protect the interests of all parties in an engagement. Protection is especially important for many clients that are new to the purchase of language services."
Although the Norms Committee drafted the terms and conditions to be as comprehensive as possible, it would be impossible to cover every potential area that an individual company may need to address in its contracts. Also, some terms and conditions contained in this document may be unenforceable in certain US states. For that reason ALC members receiving the model are encouraged to consult with a qualified lawyer in their state before implementing any of the model terms and conditions. The members are also told to ensure that there is no conflict between the terms and conditions in the model contract and any pre-existing terms and conditions they have in place with clients, such as those that may be included in an estimate sent to clients for their approval.
There are 22 sections in the model contract, most of which cover the basic provisions of a relationship between client and vendor. A few, however, have specific applicability to the language industry, such as the sections on Intended Use of Work; Specifications, and Revision of Translation-Related Deliverables. Other sections that newer companies may find especially useful include the ones on Employees & Subcontractors; Non-Circumvention and Copyrights, while more established companies may find that the sections on Reimbursable Expenses; Delivery and Shipping and Publicity make good additions to their contracts, if they’re not already included.
One of the sections the committee found most challenging to write was the one dealing with dispute resolution. At the center of this challenge was the issue of whether to utilize language that requires the parties to enter an arbitration process for dispute resolution or allows for litigation through an agreed upon jurisdiction within the federal or state court system. Since decisions such as these require a conscious decision by the language services company, the committee chose to include language for both scenarios. With this option the language services company can take a position that is consistent with its internal policy and allow this to be reflected within the contract.
There are four other sections within this standard that provide the language services company optional language to use based upon the company’s particular policies and preferences. These areas include fees, credit references and payment terms, revision of translation-related deliverables, and retention of source materials and work product. The options provided allow for the most comprehensive and equitable language, as selected by any particular language services company.
The Norms Committee is considering other model documents for its members. Schulman emphasizes that the overriding goal is to assist clients with identifying companies that follow best practices. "This is not about a language company’s size or experience," she says. "It’s about setting standards that will ensure a professional relationship and a quality product, whether provided by a big company or a small one, new or experienced, offering translation, interpretation, or localization, and then ensuring that companies adhere to them."
These issues will be revisited during the ALC’s next leadership retreat, which will be held in January 2008, with the results reviewed during the association’s 2008 Annual Conference next May in San Francisco.
Robert E. McLean, a Certified Association Executive, is executive director of the Association of Language Companies, based in Arlington, VA.
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